Network computers will be sold for free, but will still not kill off Microsoft, admitted the NCs' top champions. Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison and Sun Microsystems CEO Scott McNealy said the devices could become free because network access providers will supply them bundled with service subscriptions.
In the same way as satellite boxes are often free to subscribers, the NC gurus expect network access providers to lend or supply NCs free under their own brand in return for access time payments.
Ellison and McNealy reiterated their claim that the NC will destroy Microsoft?s domination of the IT industry, but Ellison acknowledged Microsoft will not die. In his vision of a world where the NC is in 90 per cent of first world homes Ellison expects a typical NC server box to use Oracle NC Server, Unix or Microsoft NT as its OS. Both CEOs used San Francisco?s Millennium Conference on future technology as a chance to promote their NC and Java products. Continually referring to the NC as an appliance and comparing it to the telephone and television, Ellison said offices will have to pay between $200 and $800 for NCs but Soho users should get machines for nothing.
"It should cost $10 to $20 for network access for users without Lans," he said. "We are looking at distribution models now, including one where providers give them a set-top box, perhaps under their own OEM brand." McNealy said network access providers could also charge for storage or access time.
Just 41 days before the launch in Japan of the Arm-based NC, Ellison suggested companies will not lose their PC investment by taking on the new devices, as current PCs can be converted into NCs or NC servers. "PCs are not going away," he said. "NCs will not replace them, as PCs did not completely replace mainframes."
Holding a prototype Intel-based NC in his hand, Ellison said: "If you unplug your smartcard from an NC and put it in another one, you won?t know the difference." NCs, regardless of their processor, will look the same and use industry standard HTML editors for word processing and what he called the NC?s "killer application", email. Ellison then gave the first public demonstration of Oracle?s HTML-based NC software, Hat Trick.
NCs will be virus-free because they run off a CD-Rom and cannot store information, Ellison said. He also denied that personal or private data stored on a server is relatively insecure, claiming hackers can more easily break into PCs, while paper mail can be lost or copied.
He dismissed Microsoft?s NetPC as "the dorkiest idea since standalone word processors", which will only occur "over dead bodies at Microsoft".
McNealy agreed. "PCs drive activity, not productivity," he said. "Desktop operating systems are a negative value add." He advised corporates to protect their IT investment and prepare for the future by using TCP/IP, Ascii email and HTML, then move to Java and NC-based computing. "You don?t have to throw away your computers, train people in software, you?re not limited in hardware and you can use whichever OS you want [for servers]," he said.
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