Oracle head Larry Ellison has told a group of customers in New York that the first network computer conforming to the company's specifications will be launched in about a month, and priced at US$299. Ellison won't reveal the name of the NC's manufacturer, except to say that it is a Japanese company. He predicts that there will be 100 million NCs in use by the year 2000.
"The first six months will be rocky," Ellison says. "Once we have a mature product, which will be six months to a year from now, I think this will be explosive." Initial challenges will include perfecting the user interface and working with Internet service providers.
NCs won't replace the PC, Ellison says, but will be popular in corporate settings and in the home as a communications device. "Virtually every major telco in the world is in conversations with us about ... buying the NC and giving it away like cellular telephones," Ellison says. A major European telco is considering giving an NC to every home, says Ellison. He would not name which telephone company, but says it is neither France Telecom nor Deutsche Telekom.
As Europe becomes the European Union, this country is concerned about preserving its cultural identity, Ellison says, and the telco that might give away an NC might do so as a way "to knit the country together", much as France aimed to do with its Minitel system.
During the customer presentation, nearly a year to the day after Ellison first floated the NC concept at an industry forum in Europe, an executive demonstrated a keyboardless, diskless NC with 8Mb RAM. The configuration used a Zenith television as a monitor, a mouse, and ran Oracle's InterOffice groupware application.
Some Oracle customers say they are interested in the company's broader strategies in the areas of applications, databases, and plans to link those to the Internet and intranets. While some say they can't see using the NC in the short term, in the long term it piques their interest.
"Not right now, but somewhere down the road," says Philip Theiss, vice-president of global financial process development at Estee Lauder Companies in Melville, New York. He says that he can see a future application for the NC in field sales.
Richard DiBello, president of The Automation Group in Brooklyn, New York, says he is interested in using the NC as a bonus feature in a luxury "cyber" apartment building that is under development in Manhattan. The developers plan to use a T1 line to offer building tenants Internet access and video on demand.
"It has potential," DiBello says. "It certainly is going to deliver the applications that we're looking at."