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Gates forced Digital to kill NC, says Ellison

Project and device nixed after threats, he claims

Oracle's Larry Ellison has thrown the cat among the pigeons with a claim that threats from Bill Gates forced the cancellation of a joint Digital-Oracle project that could have resulted in the sale of 500,000 NC-type devices to China.

According to a story in today's New York Times, Digital's Internet Applications Group had produced 1,800 prototypes of an NC-class device codenamed Shark in conjunction with Oracle. It was intended to be used in schools and for network computer type applications, and if it had gone into production it would clearly have constituted a major threat to Microsoft.

But Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) and Microsoft have a long-standing partnership, and according to the NYT, former Digital employees say Bill Gates told then Digital CEO Robert Palmer he had a choice of being friends with Microsoft or being friends with Oracle.

Palmer cancelled Shark and disbanded the product group. Ellison is quoted as saying that Palmer refused to tell him the reason, but said that he would if subpoenaed.

If the latest claims are true, Ellison has some justification to be sore. Getting Digital into mass production with NC standard machines would have given the standard a serious kick, and the abrupt termination of the programme (at the end of last summer) must have caused Oracle severe disruption.

But things move on, and we note that a somewhat tougher customer now owns Digital, and presumably therefore owns Shark as well. Compaq goofed last year over NetPC, and although it's now pushing thin client/server hard, it's doing so at the server end, offering customers Wyse terminals alongside them.

The possibility of a Shark revival may therefore have struck Eckhard… ®

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