New $199 device to take on the PC

Larry Ellison launches new assault on Microsoft with Net device. Caroline Davis reports

Larry Ellison launches new assault on Microsoft with Net device. Caroline Davis reports

Last Monday Oracle chairman and chief executive Larry Ellison issued his latest challenge to the PC - the New Internet Computer (Nic).

The Ellison-backed New Internet Computer Company (NICC) will sell the device for $199 (about £130). It has no hard drive, does not run Windows and is being promoted as an Internet device.

The Linux-based operating system runs off a CD-Rom and files can be stored on network servers or storage systems. The Citrix Winframe client allows users to connect to a Winframe server and run applications across a network.

In 1997 Oracle launched the Java-powered network computer (NC) in a bid to provide a low-cost, low-maintenance alternative to PCs. Firms such as Sun Microsystems and IBM embraced the idea. The NC cost about $500, but with falling PC prices and the success of Windows-based terminals and thin clients, it failed to convert users. By 1998 the NC was all but abandoned.

Rather than attempt to supplant the Windows-based PC as a computing device - a mistake the NC made - the New Internet Computer will enable users to run both Java and Windows applications.

"The NC was just too early," says Dale Vile, senior analyst at research firm Bloor. "The network infrastructure, bandwidth and browser-enabled applications we have now were just not there."

In theory, Vile sees no such barriers to the success of the Nic now.

However, most offices still rely heavily on Windows, which the Nic will not support, and he believes this, together with strong brands such as Compaq, Wyse and NCD in the thin client market, will deter corporate take-up. "I can't think of a good reason to go to [NICC]," he says.

Perhaps Ellison believes this too, because he appears to be aiming the Nic at a different market. NICC is currently only selling the device to schools as part of Ellison's "Help Us Help" campaign to provide Internet and e-mail access to classrooms in poorer schools.

"The creation of the Nic allows us to expand the number of students that can be reached because of its simplicity, lower price and ease of maintenance," said Ellison at the campaign's launch.

New Internet Computer's specification

  • Operating system: based on Linux 2.2.15

  • Software: Netscape 4.72 (will be upgraded to Netscape 6)Citrix winframe clientSupports Java

  • Processor: 266MHz Pentium-class by Cyrix

  • Memory: 64Mbytes of Ram plus 4Mbytes Flash memory

  • Connections: USB (no parallel port)

  • Read more on PC hardware