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Oracle-Funded NC Company to Offer $199 Linux System

The Network Computer Redux

  • June 30, 2000
  • By David Needle

Remember the Network Computer? It was the bold, heretical idea promoted by the likes of Oracle CEO Larry Ellison and Sun CEO Scott McNeally four years ago that was going to unseat the PC for top spot on the desktop. The basic concept of an NC is a stripped down, Internet-connected, PC that relies on a remote server for most, if not all, of its storage and access to applications. The first NCs were late in coming and never took off anywhere near what its proponents expected.

Perhaps nothing accounts for the NC's lackluster adoption more than the evolution of the PC itself. Just as NCs started to ship, PC prices plummeted (some to as low as "free" with a paid Internet service contract) even as processing power and storage capabilities continued to increase. Ellison later declared that for all intents and purposes the newly low cost PCs had essentially become the NCs he promised.

But he never gave up on the original NC concept. And companies like Sun and IBM have shipped thousands of NCs to corporate clients. Ellison's latest gambit is to get NCs out to schools and disadvantaged youths. Back in January he announced The New Internet Computer Company, a San Francisco-based venture headed by former computer columnist and media personality Gina Smith. NIC's mission is provide consumers with low cost NCs, but the company has had a very low profile and been late getting systems to market.

Since its launch NICC has been focused on getting its New Internet Computers (NICs) out to needy public schools at little or no cost. In addition to the company's own contributions (Oracle says its committed $100 Million to the effort), the NICC Web site has a "Donation Package" form for people who want to buy a NIC for schools in need.

The NICs have not been available to consumers but that's expected to change soon. Asked about the status of NICC at a press conference Wednesday Ellison said NICC's site will be ready to take orders from consumers on July 4.

The basic NIC is $199 but that price doesn't appear to include mouse and keyboard. According to the company's Web site, $199 gets you a system with a 266 MHz "Pentium-class" CPU, 64 MB RAM, 4 MB flash memory, 24X CD-ROM drive, 56K modem, 10/100 base-T Ethernet, and the Linux 2.2 operating system with the latest version of the Netscape browser. For $376 (which includes shipping) you get a 15-inch SuperVGA monitor AND mouse, keyboard, and speakers. The NIC comes with two USB ports for connecting printers or other peripherals. The system also comes with free Internet access from NetZero, which Ellison touted as "free Internet service forever."

"There's nothing wrong with the NC in that there are some situations where it's a viable and cost-effective solution," says Keith Diefendorff, Editor in Chief Microprocessor Report. "But the notion that it replaces the current model of PCs as fairly high-performance clients, I don't see. There are too many things where the local processing power of the PC can't be replaced by bandwidth."

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