Ellison shows off NCs, Java-powered software suite
JavaStation-compatibles & software debut one week after Sun's roll-out
San Francisco -- Network computer evangelist and Oracle president and CEO Larry Ellison demonstrated some prototype NC devices at OpenWorld '96 Conference here in early November, including versions based on Advanced RISC Machines(ARM) and Intel microprocessors.
Ellison slipped a smart card into an NC powered by a 133-MHz Pentium processor with the Netscape Navigator browser and an SVGA monitor displaying a customized "desktop" screen or personal page with links to news, weather and other sites.
"We're working with Intel on an NC," Ellison said. "This is an Intel NC."
An Oracle spokeswoman clarified the point after Ellison's presentation, saying that Oracle is porting NC technology to Intel's Pentium chip. Earlier in the day, an Intel spokeswoman said Intel is not making any NC announcements. A week ago, Intel joined Microsoft Corp. in announcing plans to develop NetPCs, in what is seen as a counter to Oracle's NC strategy.
An Intel version of the NC will be finished by the end of the year and available in the first quarter of 1997, Ellison said. An NC server will be available by the end of the year, and ARM-based devices are already shipping, he said.
Despite alluding to Intel as a partner, Ellison took repeated jabs at Intel and Microsoft for resisting what he called a paradigm shift to lower-cost, less complex network-centric appliances.
"We will never move to the information age if we have to rely on the PC to get us there," he said. "People can't afford them and don't understand how to use them."
NCs won't replace PCs, but will be sold in "much greater volume," Ellison said. "The NC is a communication and information access device, not a computation device."
Office NCs will range between $200 and $800, and home NCs will cost nothing for the hardware, but users will pay between $10 and $30 for network use, according to Ellison. While Oracle is developing software for the appliances and servers, Apple Computer Inc. and WebTV Networks Inc. are developing devices for offices and schools, and IBM and Sun Microsystems are working on models for corporate use, he added.
One attendee was skeptical of Ellison's end-user cost forecast.
"There's all kinds of services behind it that you're going to have to purchase," said Larry Binder, a database administrator at Ford Motor Co. in Dearborn, Michigan. "What other costs are there to get the system up and running?"
Another audience member was impressed with Ellison's demonstration of streaming video on several NC devices. "We do a lot of videoconferencing between sites, and they could use it there," said Brent McKean, a systems analyst at Shell Oil Co. in Houston. "But if I had a choice between a $300 NC and a $2,000 PC, I'd buy the PC because I like the storage and I like the disk space."
In his keynote address, Ellison predicted that the killer application for NCs will be "multimedia HTML e-mail." To illustrate his point, he demonstrated a 200-MHz ARM-based NC decompressing MPEG images in real time; an ARM-based digital NC set-top box with remote control streaming video from an Oracle Universal Server to a Web browser over a TCP/IP network; a Pentium-based set-top box showing streamed video over a 28.8K-bit-per-second modem; and streamed video over an ISDN (integrated services digital network) line.
Ellison also demonstrated an ARM-based NC prototype with an RCA TV monitor; another TV with NC software built in using a keyboard; a telephone with integrated NC; and a Pentium-based PC running NC software and Netscape Navigator.
TV-type NCs with SVGA monitors will cost between $700 and $800, he said. "When you get the hardware price under $100, in about two years, [the NC] will be built into every high-end TV.'
As for telephones: "This appliance costs less than a corporate telephone," he said, adding that each of Oracle's internal phones costs $700 each.
A Java-powered HatTrick
On the software side, Oracle revealed a Java-based suite of office applications for network computers which the company says will rival Microsoft Corp.'s Office.
HatTrick features a Java-based word-processor, spreadsheet and graphics software program which can be downloaded over a network. HatTrick will be included in Oracle's InterOffice 4.1 groupware suite. The word processor and presentation software will ship in the first quarter of 1997 and the spreadsheet will ship in the second quarter of 1997. Pricing has not yet been announced.
Since HatTrick is written entirely in Java and publishes information in HTML, the applications can be launched and viewed with any Web browser, according to Oracle. HatTrick will function as "cartridges," or groups of software components, which will reside on the application server.
The HatTrick suite of applets require 2 megabytes of memory and no disk space on the desktop machine. Oracle officials point out that Microsoft Office, which requires 12 megabytes of memory and 89 megabytes of disk space to run applications with "the same basic level of functionality," is too complicated and difficult to use.
The majority of computer users spend most of their time using a word processor, sending e-mail, creating presentation graphics and developing spreadsheets and have no need for a "bulky front office product suite", said Joe Duncan, senior vice president of Oracle's Object, Internet and Groupware Tools division.
The company used its annual user conference to announce a bevy of new or improved software:
Oracle hopes the new Web version of the product will allow developers to make the estimated 5 million Developer/2000 client/server applications in use today available for use with NCs, officials said. In addition, Oracle is urging developers to create future applications based on the Web environment in order to shift the focus of client/server computing to browser/server computing.
WebServer 2.1 for Sun Solaris is available for download today at http://www.oracle.com, with an NT version due out by the end of the year. Pricing has not yet been announced.
Payment Server will support credit card, electronic checks and digital cash payments from CyberCash, FirstData and VeriFone. Like Apollo, Payment Server is based on the Network Computing Architecture which aims to allow PCs and NCs to interoperate using a set of network computing applications.
The Apollo merchant server functions as a cartridge which plugs into the Oracle Web Request Broker and interoperates with Oracle Universal Server, according to Oracle. Apollo will be available in beta by the end of the year, with Payment Server to follow in beta in the second quarter of 1997.
Five vendors jumped on the Oracle NC bandwagon today by announcing their intention to develop cartridges, or software components, based on the Network Computing Architecture. BlueStone Inc., Gradient Technologies Inc., HAHT Software, SAQQARA Systems and SourceCraft Inc. all announced that they will build cartridges which plug into the architecture.
Oracle also announced that it will Web-enable all 30 of the modules in its client/server applications suite. While Oracle has made some parts of its client/server application suite Web-ready in the past year, such as its human resources application, this is the first time the company has announced that the entire suite will be "Webified." Financials, manufacturing, supply chain management, payroll modules will be modified so that users can access them using any Java-enabled browser, according to Oracle. The Web-enable applications are expected to be available in the second quarter of 1997.
Oracle also introduced new products in the data mart/data warehouse space, including a new Relational OnLine Analyticial Processing Tool (ROLAP) option for Oracle 7 and a new version of its query and reporting tool, Discover 3.0.
Thomson plans to ship the terminal in the U.S. in the second quarter next year for $300. Thomson will ship the terminal in Europe later, but has not fixed a date. --Elinor Mills, Niall McKay, Kristi Essick, and Joanne Taaffe, IDG News Service
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