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Net box's fate hinges on developers

Oracle is carrying the flag for the Network Computer, but its success depends on the rest of the band.

Oracle is carrying the flag at the front of the Network Computer parade, but the NC's ultimate success depends on the support it gets from the rest of the band: applications software and hardware developers, as well as systems integrators and network services companies.

The core NC partners--which include Apple Computer, Sun Microsystems, IBM, Netscape Communications, and Oracle--received preliminary support from vendors in all of these categories,

Easily the most important endorsement from an application vendor came from one of the core partners, Netscape. The company will develop a version of the Navigator Web browser specifically designed for Network Computers, said Marc Andreessen, Netscape's co-founder and vice president of technology. The "thinned-down" Navigator will be significantly smaller than regular PC versions of the browser, reflecting the limited storage capacity on NCs.

Netscape will further detail its plans for creating NC products within the next few months, officials said.

Hoping to capitalize on the potential market for platform-independent Java applications on NCs and PCs, Corel today announced as expected that it will create a set of productivity applications using Java. The company will also allow developers to create documents in Java without programming using existing Corel applications, such as WordPerfect 7 and Ventura 7.

Macromedia announced that it will bring its popular multimedia technology, Shockwave for Director, to NC platforms.

Chip vendors are also counting on NCs creating a new market for microprocessors.Advanced RISC Machines today announced a new microprocessor, the ARM7500FE, which includes integrated video control for monitors, TVs and LCDs, stereo sound outputs, keyboards, and joystick interfaces.

Sun has also announced a set of microprocessors geared toward NCs that are optimized for running Java applications.

Several systems integrators, including Otsuka Shokai, Nomura Research Institute, NTT Data, Hitachi, NEC, announced that they will offer NCs to corporations as part of overall information systems solutions. These systems integrators could be key to evangelizing the benefits of NCs within the corporations, a market where the devices will have the most appeal initially, analysts said.

"We're looking at NCs going into corporations in 1998," said Chip Gliedman, an industry analyst at industry research firm Giga Information Group. "It's five years before the telcos adopt NCs. The networks just aren't reliable enough."

That doesn't seem to faze Oracle. CEO Larry Ellison said today that unnamed telecommunications companies have already placed orders for 2 million Network Computers.

Related stories:
NC makers disclosed but buyers aren't
Oracle opens software shop for NC