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Oracle readies re-entry into network computer biz

Larry's at it again

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Oracle's ebullient CEO, Larry Ellison, yesterday confirmed the database giant gearing up for a second attempt to make something of the network computer business after the abject failure of its first go. Last time round, Ellison set up Network Computer, Inc. and came up with a machine that would, he claimed, beat Windows-based PCs head-on by being both cheaper to buy and run over time, and by being easier to manage and maintain. Nice plan, we'll take it. Except no did, because Microsoft and Intel quickly came up to Total Cost of Ownership quashing measures of their own, and suddenly the dumb terminal... sorry, network computer concept faded away into industry legend, taking the ill-fated Network Computer, Inc. with it. Earlier this year the company was IPO'd off as Liberate, a maker of up-market set-top boxes. This time, Ellison appears to be working through a proxy. The Network Computer, Inc. name is being revived, but whether it's as an Oracle subsidiary or it has been picked up by an existing hardware manufacturer remains to be seen -- Ellison's ellisionary comments point both ways. However, he did say it will produce a "$199... desktop computer replacement" running Linux and Netscape Communicator on an Intel CPU. The box will be announced "shortly", said Ellison, which suggests that he's jumping the gun a little here. The Netscape angle is interesting. Might Ellison be alluding to AOL's much-rumoured Microsoft-free Internet access box? Possibly, but since every Linux distribution ships with Netscape anyway, perhaps we shouldn't read too much into it. Still, Ellison's comments will come as a bitter blow to all those Mac users who've been repeating The Great Man's statements over the last couple of years that the future of networking computing is the iMac. With its NetBoot facility, the iMac is arguably the world's most successful NC, even though it's never been really sold as one -- Apple's diskless iMac prototype has yet to see light of day. But, alas, it now seems that Intel, not PowerPC, is the basis for future NCs, at least in Ellison's view. Maybe his old pal, Steve Jobs, should have a word with him... ®

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