Oracle president and CEO Larry Ellison was trumpeting his network computer at Internet World in San Jose this week, describing different models and announcing that a version based on the ARM microprocessor will be available in September, followed by an Intel version.
Ellison elaborated on the devices, whose simplicity will allegedly make them easier to use and cheaper than PCs because they have no hard disk and have minimal computing capability, getting their power and storage from the network.
A network server will distribute data and software to users, as well as fix bugs and distribute upgrades. A small cache for temporary storage will allow users to work remote from the network or avoid tying up lines on slow networks, he says.
The NC will be compatible with Netscape Communications's Navigator browser, and the interface will be more like that of a CD-ROM than of the Windows environment.
The generic NC will offer users about a dozen applications -- such as a World Wide Web browser, email and a word processor -- and will operate over ethernet, ATM (asynchronous transfer mode), ISDN (integrated services digital network), 28.8Kbit/s modems or cable modems. Eventually, they will work with personal smart cards.
Features in early-rollout versions will include personalised news feeds, embedded video clips and interactive ads, according to Ellison.
The device types will include desktop, laptop, telephone, set-top, PDA (personal digital assistant) and two-way pager models. A 0.9kg model with an ethernet NIC, 8Mb of RAM, penlight batteries and an 8in grey-scale LCD will cost about US$600, while a phone model running over 28.8Kbit/s lines or ISDN would run for about US$500, he says.
Ellison predicts that the devices will be given away for free from companies that provide monthly usage services to users, although monthly fees will be involved.
The cost of manufacturing the devices with an ARM chip, 8Mb of dynamic RAM, ethernet connection, PCMCIA card, smart card, keyboard and mouse will be about US$300, but OEMs can then sell them for US$500. They can be plugged into any monitor or television set.
Oracle is implementing the system and server software for the NC, as well as basic applications and a hardware reference design.
"The NC is not designed to replace the personal computer," says Ellison. It is "designed to be a device that's easy to use," with a lower cost and a basic set of functions, he says.
"By the turn of the century, there will be more NCs sold than PCs," he predicts.