It’s real - Oracle shows off $US299 NC

It’s real, it’s here — and prices start at $US299. “It” is the network computer.

It was a measure of how much Oracle has to prove about its network computing creed that it launched its annual Open-World show with a noisy assurance that the grail did indeed exist.

Oracle president Ray Lane, whose keynote was introduced by the fanfare for the common NC, offered the company’s network computing architecture as a solution to problems some business probably didn’t know they had.

Apart from halving costs, the NCA would do what “incremental answers” like business process reingineering had failed to achieve in the past decade. It would ease the competitive uncertainty of many US firms that some small company in Asia might replicate their business without replicating their high-cost infrastructure.

“Businesses should now be able to demand that 90% of their budget is spent on applications, not on infrastructure,” says Lane.

Lane also showed Oracle’s first-ever TV commercials — plugs for the NC-driven “information age” with Oracle’s brand attached. The ads were part of “a cultural change for us and our customers” which had seen Oracle go from 2% public brand recognition in 1992 to more than 50% now.

At a conference after his speech, Lane could not quite bring himself to endorse his CEO Larry Ellison’s notorious prediction that NCs would outsell PCs by the year 2000.

“We should commit to a forecast when we have a number of producers out there shooting these things out the doorn,” says Lane. “The question is always put to us on the demand side. I think the real issue will be supply.

“I do think it will be a hostile change. I see some ugly things happening already today. The current forces of the PC business don’t like it.”

Lane did not expand on his comments, but employees of Oracle’s NCI subsidiary have privately claimed that Microsoft has been severing relationships with any of its preferred suppliers which talk to NCI — in some cases actually calling while the firms are meeting NCI representatives.

One battleground between the NC and the PC — America’s schools — will benefit from the rivalry. In June, Ellison hauled Colonel Colin Powell onstage at Radio City Music Hall in New York while he announced “Oracle’s Promise”, a $US100 million charitable charter to put NCs into the poorest schools.

Ellison’s rival billionaire, Microsoft CEO Bill Gates, had the day before announced that he would personally donate $US200 million to put PCs in schools and Microsoft would give software to a retail value of $US200 million.

Oracle maintained Gates’ move was a response to an alert issued by Oracle the day before Ellison’s speech. A Microsoft spokesperson insisted the clash was “an incredible coincidence”, while Lane said it was tacky.

Another round was played out last week when Lane and a press posse visited Carver Middle School in South Central LA, which had been set up with 100 NCs and a network under Oracle’s “Promise”. Lane says he is asking every large Oracle office in the world to “adopt a school”

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