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Oracle places NC hopes in Japan

Oracle Japan will launch a campaign to extend the NC's market penetration in Japan, which looks more promising than the U.S. market.

Oracle (ORCL) will soon launch a campaign to extend its Network Computer (NC) in Japan, after failing to build momentum in the U.S. market.

At the end of the month, Oracle Japan will launch a series of promotions pushing "thin client" computing for corporate environments. The subsidiary of Redwood Shores, California-based Oracle will work in conjunction with manufacturers and systems integrators; likely partners include NEC, Philips Electronics, and Funai Electric.

Typically lacking hard drives and relying on connections to server computers for storage and some computing functions, NCs are touted by proponents as low-cost, low-maintenance devices.

Some of its champions asserted the NC would replace the PC when the platform was announced late in 1996, but over the next year it became clear that was not going to happen. PC makers began incorporating some of the NC's best features, such as remote manageability for systems operators, and prices fell dramatically, undercutting another advantage. Meanwhile NC vendors were slow in delivering products to market.

NCI, the Oracle subsidiary that makes operating system and server software for NCs, says it has gotten off to a faster start in Japan. Working with a group of 40 corporate giants including Mitsubishi Electric and Nippon Telephone & Telegraph, the company found the Japanese business environment more amenable to the NC than the U.S. consumer market.

Several factors make the NC better suited for Japanese corporate use, according to NCI's director of product marketing, Jeff Menz. First, most computers are shared machines. Second, more conservative Japanese spending favors the NC both because of cost--NCs go for between $400 and $600.

Also, home Internet usage is quite expensive in Japan, making it more practical to access the server computers that power NCs from the office, and old-fashioned "dumb" terminals are far more common.

Oracle Japan hopes its promotional schemes will help it ship more than 100,000 NCs over the coming year, according to the Nihon Keizai Shimbun.

In the United States, most analysts now think NCs will likely find a role as replacements for dumb terminals.