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Liberate frees itself from the desktop

The company originally envisioned to develop the ill-fated Network Computer appears determined not to go down with the sinking ship, signing a deal with MediaOne that will put it on cable set-tops.

The company originally envisioned to develop the ill-fated Network Computer appears determined not to go down with the sinking ship.

Liberate Technologies has signed a deal to test its Internet software on MediaOne's cable television set-top boxes, another design win for the company originally formed to realize Larry Ellison's vision of extending the "thin client" to the PC world.

Liberate's products, which provide a software platform for set-top boxes which offer enhanced television viewing features as well as Internet applications like Web viewing and email. The company, one of the first to bring the client-server architecture to the television, has largely been eclipsed as Microsoft and its Java rivals aggressively moved into the broadband and high-speed network realms.

MediaOne cautions that the announcement is a very preliminary step in testing Liberate's products in market trials. "This is an exploration of the technologies," a company spokesperson said, emphasizing that no plans for an actual rollout are in the works. "We're not tied to any one vendor or proprietary system."

But Liberate, which recently offered shares to the public in an IPO, says that adding MediaOne to its customer base, in addition to signing up key partners like America Online, Cable & Wireless, and Comcast, is an indicator that the company is gaining momentum.

"It's an actual licensing agreement," he said. "This is new for everyone in the cable space-exploring the services on top of the platform." Liberate is banking on predictions of a booming market for information appliances, which is predicted to grow 76 percent annually to 55.7 million annual unit shipments in 2002, according to International Data Corporation.

Under the terms of the deal announced today, MediaOne, a private investor in Liberate, will test the firm's TV Navigator and Liberate Connect DTV suite for its cable set-top boxes in market trials, according to Charlie Tritschler, vice president of marketing for the software company.

MediaOne will also test the Liberate Connect DTV suite, a head-end software solution which manages applications across the network.