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IBM: NC not for consumers

IBM says its Internet computers will be aimed at the corporate users, not consumers.

IBM, which today will join Oracle and Sun Microsystems on a Network Computer announcement, says its offering will be geared toward corporate users, not consumers.

The troika will announce a network appliance standard, called the Network Computer Reference Profile, ensuring that all the standard Internet protocols--HTML, HTTP, FTP, SMTP, and TCP/IP--plus Java will be fundamental features of the new generation of Internet access devices, according to Sun officials.

IBM plans to build several models which will incorporate Intel microprocessors as well as its own PowerPC chips. Prices will start at $750, according to Reuters.

"We think the home is important, but we are not running around at this point saying this thing is a replacement for the telephone in your house," Phil Hester, IBM's general manager for integrated products solutions, told Reuters. "We think there are multiple devices for multiple segments."

A full list of at least 15 vendors ready to manufacture the device will also be announced today. The three companies have found a new software ally in Corel, which will announce its intention to offer a suite of integrated productivity applications--including word processor and spreadsheet capabilities--all written in Java.

So far, Mitsubishi is the only company to officially announce support for the Network Computer Reference Profile, but Tatung and Acer of Taiwan, Olivetti of Italy, Motorola, and Digital Equipment are all expected to be on the list.

For several months, Oracle has been touting a design for its Network Computer, the now-famous $500 box that would provide only Internet and basic word-processing functions, but until now would not name any companies that had committed to manufacturing the product. As a software company, Oracle will design the Network Computers but not manufacture them itself. The product's success will be largely determined by how confident consumers feel about the brand names that will appear on the boxes, regardless of how loudly Oracle promotes the idea.

Today's announcement will be followed by Sun's announcement of its Java OS code named Kona on May 29 at the JavaOne developer conference in San Francisco. That day, Sun will announce more than ten Kona licensees that will make the software part of Network Computers, embedded systems, and desktop computers.

Corel will demonstrate its Java productivity suite at the conference. The company is also preparing to integrate Java with its existing applications, including Ventura 7, WordPerfect 7.0, and Database Publisher 7, using a technology code-named Barista.

But Oracle and its partners still face skepticism about the validity of the Network Computer concept.

"I don't think any of those companies are expecting too much of it. I wouldn't expect it to sell more than 100,000 units at most. Ellison has proven to be a great visionary on the software side, but I'm not quite sure if he can be a good hardware visionary. The machine will probably not be that useful, considering it doesn't even run Windows," said Martin Reynolds, vice president at research firm Dataquest.

Nevertheless, the vendors say they are ready. Cirrus Logic is manufacturing the ARM chip, one of those that manufacturers can use under Oracle's specifications, according to Cirrus Logic company spokesman Tom Rigoli. "We're ready to begin manufacturing the computer engine almost immediately," he said.

Related stories:
Java OS to make debut this month
Oracle wants partners for NC standards
Oracle gets NC religion
Oracle to debut $500 Network Computer
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