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Intel prototype is new NC twist

Oracle chairman Larry Ellison takes the stage at the Millennium conference, demonstrating new NC software on the Intel platform.

Oracle (ORCL) chairman and CEO Larry Ellison demonstrated an Intel-built prototype network computer (NC) at the Millennium Conference in San Francisco, California, as an example of a device he thinks will bring the Information Age into more homes and offices.

"We will never have an Information Age if we rely on the PC," Ellison said, reciting a mantra often heard from Microsoft's fiercest rival. "PC penetration in the U.S. is only about 30 percent, leaving 70 percent of America disenfranchised. The rate of adoption of PCs is going down, not up. The PC is too complex to be a sensible appliance for use in the home or office," he continued, demonstrating Oracle InterOffice collaboration software, a Java-based word processor, and a presentation program code-named "HatTrick" on the NC.

According to Oracle officials, Ellison first demonstrated the Intel-built prototype NC computer last week at a private meeting of The Research Board, a conglomeration of approximately 50 Chief Information Officers from the world's largest companies, in Beverly Hills, California. Oracle compared the demonstration to "the only other demonstration ever allowed at The Research Board," when Steve Jobs demonstrated the first Apple Macintosh computer in 1984.

The demonstration was the first public trotting-out of such software from NCI, which is a subsidiary of Oracle. An Oracle spokesperson said the demonstration was done to show that NCI software can run on other major architectures such as Intel's x86 processors, which are inside over 80 percent of the world's computers. The first NC prototype used a processor from Advanced RISC Machines (ARM).

NCs, such as those advocated by Oracle and Sun (SUNW) are loosely defined as computers that are connected to and rely on a server computer to store and distribute software applications such as databases or spreadsheets and do most of the heavy processing. Microsoft (MSFT) and Intel(INTC) have also advanced an NC-like device, called the NetPC, which is essentially a bare-bones PC with better network management features.

While Microsoft is advancing the NetPC specification as a way to preserve its dominance in the market for operating systems, the basic software that controls network computers, Oracle is trying to squeeze in on the game by supplying software for network computers. Intel's interest is always in selling more processors, which enables it to play both sides of the network computer debate.