Larry Ellison, Oracle's chairman and chief executive, demonstrated the second version of the supplier's network computer for the first time during his keynote speech at the Oracle Openworld user conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday.
At the same time, he also previewed a Motorola mobile phone running socalled Oraclephone software that was able to access the Web wirelessly using Sprint PCS as its Internet Service Provider.
The Oraclephone software dialled into Oracle's Portal to Go Web site, which reformatted the data contained on Yahoo's Web site to fit onto the phone's screen. The phone also serves as an ewallet, which Ellison used to pay for soda from a dispensing machine.
"In Europe, phones will become the predominant way of accessing the Internet very soon because other forms of access are slow," Ellison said.
The much hyped NC, however, will start shipping in the first quarter of 2000, with volume production scheduled for the second quarter. It will be manufactured by third party hardware suppliers and sold through Oracle's new Network Computing (NCI) company.
This operates as a separate business and will be headed by a newly hired female chief executive, who has yet to be named.
NCI, however, was originally set up four years ago as a wholly owned subsidiary of Oracle to sell the firm's first iteration of its network computer (NC). Earlier this year though, it was spun off, changed its name to Liberate and went public. It now sells TV settop boxes.
Ellison said: "This is the network computer version 2. It was scheduled to be $500, but the PC industry made an astounding response and now PCs are down to $500. But the NC has not stood still either and it's down to $199. And you can plug it in to every monitor whether it costs $99 or $2,000."
"The old NC booted off a network, which worked fine on a LAN, but not at home. But this one's got an operating system and browser on CD-Rom and you boot it off the CD-Rom. I'd like to say I invented this, but we stole the idea from Sony - games machines are really clever. So to upgrade it, you just take out the CD and put in a new one - like changing music," he added.
As previously announced, the device will be powered by a 400MHz Intel chip, come with 64Mb of memory, and run Linux, a browser and Sun Microsystems' Staroffice Internet based office productivity suite, which will also come on CD-Rom. Users can also access the Internet via a standard dialup modem.
The CD-Roms will come in different colours, however, to indicate what software they provide. Blue ones, for example, will not include the Staroffice suite, while red ones will provide it, although the price will remain the same for both.
Ellison continued: "The first goal was to put this in the hands of kids in school and at home and it's still our primary goal to give kids a chance to access the Internet without having to have a PC."
As a result, Oracle has launched help.com to encourage businesses and individuals to sponsor children throughout the world to receive an NC. It also announced that Shequille O'Neal, the Laker's star centre player, had already signed up to the scheme.
The move comes on top of the $100 million that Oracle has already said it will provide over ten years to provide such hardware to children.
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