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Oracle takes another stab at cheap desktop machine

The company once again tries to dislodge the PC as its spinoff, the NICC, begins plans to popularize a desktop computer that doesn't need Windows or a hard drive.

Oracle tries to dislodge the PC again as its spinoff, The New Internet Computer Company (NICC), formally began plans today to popularize a new type of desktop computer that will not need Windows or a hard drive.

Starting at $199 without a monitor, the desktop, called the "new Internet computer" or NIC, will provide an inexpensive and easy way for businesses and consumers to get onto the Internet. The low price is partly possible because the desktop unit doesn't need cutting-edge hardware. Many computing functions are handled by remote servers.

If it sounds familiar, that's because it is. In 1997, Oracle launched a spinoff called Network Computer that wanted to popularize inexpensive computers without Windows called Network Computers (NCs). The New Internet Computer Company even uses the same logo as Network Computer Inc.

Despite the overt similarities, Oracle is likely not aiming to repeat history--the NC never got off the ground. Corporate buyers and consumers ignored the devices as PCs dropped drastically in price, eliminating much of the alleged cost benefit of the NC.

Meanwhile, those companies interested in so-called thin-client computing gravitated toward an architecture promoted by Citrix Systems, which is allied to some degree with Microsoft. By early 1998, NC had already been shoved off the stage.

Although few ever bought NCs, the company was retrofitted to become Liberate Technologies, a software developer that has become a pivotal player in the interactive TV market.

An NIC will come with a 266-MHz Cyrix processor, 64MB of memory and a 24X CD-ROM, among other features. With a 15-inch monitor, the total price amounts to $376, according to the company's Web site. Cyrix processors were used in some of the early NCs, although the 266-MHz is currently not being manufactured by Via Technologies, which bought Cyrix last year.