French Vendor Aims Set-Top Box at Europe -- with Telcos' Help

France's Multimedia Network Computer SA (MNC) plans to launch in December two network computing terminals that operate with televisions and which will be sold through large European telecommunications operators. The simplest terminal, SurfNet, provides Internet access and email functions and is most likely to be a competitor to the offering from Microsoft Corp. subsidiary WebTV Networks Inc.

France's Multimedia Network Computer SA (MNC) plans to launch in December two network computing terminals that operate with televisions and which will be sold through large European telecommunications operators.

The simplest terminal, SurfNet, provides Internet access and email functions and is most likely to be a competitor to the offering from Microsoft Corp. subsidiary WebTV Networks Inc.

MNC, however, has higher hopes for the second terminal, called FamilyNet, which will offer broader multimedia features, such as a games console, a CD-ROM player and video-conferencing capabilities, followed next year by a DVD drive, according to Joel Reboul, the company's CEO.

The company intends to make the terminals available before Christmas through telecommunications operators in Germany, France, Spain and the U.K., which will either rent or sell the machines to customers. MNC will also sell the terminals in supermarkets. Next year the company will try to break into other European markets.

Individual operators will choose the terminal's software configuration. Although FamilyNet is Windows 95 compatible, MNC does not foresee many operators offering the Windows 95 interface as a feature. Instead the terminals will probably rely on the Windows 95 core to ensure that all CD-ROMs can run on the console.

Surfnet comes with a Web browser, email software, a built-in modem and infra-red keyboard. The terminal will also have a parallel port for a printer or a video camera and a serial port for a digital camera. FamilyNet's extra features include Windows 95 compatibility and an internal CD-ROM drive. Both terminals will run on MediaGX microprocessors from Cyrix Corp. and come with 16M bytes of memory.

MNC also plans in 1998 to provide the terminals with a Java operating system, which it believes is more stable and faster than Windows 95, Reboul said.

With parts coming from Korea and assembly in France, Surfnet will cost 2,290 francs including tax (US$388) and FamilyNet will cost approximately 3,590 francs, Reboul said.

MCN will have a Web site at http://www.surfnet97.com as of October 13 and can also be reached in Montpellier at +33-4-6799-4848.

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