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Oracle cozies up to Intel on NC

Oracle goes out of its way to demonstrate that its NC software is compatible with the largest PC platform in the world.

Oracle (ORCL), once an outspoken opponent of the PC empire, is now striking an alliance with the dominant PC processor company.

Network Computer Incorporated (NCI), an Oracle subsidiary, cozied up to Intel (INTC) today, announcing additional hardware support from Intel-based computer makers such as NEC and Philips. (see CNET Radio coverage)

In the past, Oracle has extolled the virtues of network computers (NCs) running on cheap, low-power processors such as Digital Equipment's StrongARM processor. In short, anything but Intel. But today's announcement sings the praises of the Intel platform. Oracle appears to be going out of its way to demonstrate that its NC software is compatible with Intel processors, the largest PC platform in the world--a claim it can't necessarily make with other, less-established hardware vendors.

NCs are loosely defined as computers that rely on a centrally located server computer to store and distribute software, such as Java applications. The platform has been touted as an alternative to traditional Intel-based PCs. In some cases, the server computer is also used to run the applications.

Today in Japan, Oracle's CEO Larry Ellison demonstrated software products running on what it claims is the "largest network of Intel processor-based network computers and NC Servers."

Servers are the core hardware for Oracle's software, and NCI made it crystal clear that it is using Intel hardware for server computers. "Intel system building blocks [were used] to build the network of 10 Intel-based NC Servers supporting over 500 high-performance network computers running NCI's NC Desktop software," the company added.

"If I'm a corporate purchasing agent, I'm comfortable with Intel inside. It's a less-radical architectural move than to go to somebody's RISC processor. If I'm an NC manufacturer, I probably want to provide both," said Dave Cappuccio, vice president and networking research director for the Gartner Group.

"Charges of 'not compatible' play on fears of MIS directors. Having Intel inside is a position more compatible with their buying public," he added.

Intel hardware was also spotlighted on the NCI-compatible NC that Oracle proposes to put on millions of desktops worldwide. The NCs running Java software in the demonstration featured Intel chips ranging from 133-MHz "classic" Pentiums (without MMX technology) up to 200-MHz Pentium MMX processors, according to an Oracle spokesperson.

Intel executives chimed in their support. "We're delighted to see high performance recognized as a necessary element of Oracle's and NCI's business clients," said corporate vice president Stephen Nachtsheim in a prepared statement. Intel also claims that its processors are very adept at running Java software.

Oracle said it worked jointly with Intel to optimize Oracle's Video Server software performance for Intel's MMX technology. The Oracle Video Server is a technology for delivering "streamed" video over the Internet and intranets.

NEC and Philips Electronics will build NCs and servers that use NCI's operating system and productivity software running on Intel hardware.

Philips is committed to building NCs with a 133-MHz Pentium processor that can be hooked up to a TV set or computer monitor. It expects to sell the NCs as early as June in Asia, and eventually in European markets, for under $700. The Philips NC will also support standard network interfaces such as Fast Ethernet and may offer a CD-ROM drive and wireless keyboard and mouse for applications such as set-top boxes for Internet browsing.

NEC announced an "NEC Express Server" that runs on NCOS, NCI's low-cost operating system, targeted at the small office, home office, education, and community markets. NEC's Express Server platform is the best-selling Intel-based server in Japan, the company claims.

The package includes all server software components including data and application management, security, and authentication and requires a minimal amount of onsite customization and ongoing maintenance, according to the company.