Tech Industry

Oracle: Europe ripe for NCs

Oracle's network computer unit has formed a European subsidiary to market the NC "vision" and software to support that vision.

Oracle's ambitions for the network computer now span the seven seas.

The company's Network Computer Incorporated unit has formed a European subsidiary to market the NC vision and software. The company is also planning a big push into Asian markets starting in April at an upcoming Oracle trade show and developer conference. As the European telecommunications market gradually opens to new players and, presumably, new technologies, Oracle smells a big opportunity coming up.

"We expect that the European market will be one of the fastest NC adopters," Mauro Righetti, a 20-year high-tech veteran who heads the new subsidiary in Milan, Italy, in a statement.

Oracle is counting on low PC penetration rates in Europe plus a techno-savvy population to send NCs flying off the shelves. In France, for example, millions of Minitel terminals in homes and businesses are aging, said NCI spokesman Randy Brasche, so France is an upgrade market Oracle covets.

"They are using smart cards like mad now," said Brasche. "We think NCs will be fairly huge, especially in the consumer market." Smart cards--credit card-sized cards with an embedded computer chip--are a key part of Oracle's NC architecture. It expects to announce an alliance with a manufacturer of smart cards within weeks.

The Yankee Group consultancy in January surveyed Fortune 200 companies in the United States and found that 17 percent intend to buy NCs this year and 48 percent within two years, according to Brian Murphy, senior analyst.

"If the technology is there and if the software works, the adoption rate in Europe might be faster than in North America," Murphy speculated. He's basing his opinion on a report that said the " single point of control" represented by a NC is the biggest attraction for corporate computing chiefs in the United States. He thinks this ability to control NCs from a central location will be even more important in Europe.

"That's the kind of thing that really speaks to a European audience," he added.

The new Oracle unit, called NCI EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa), is starting with about ten employees and will concentrate initially in Europe, marketing to national phone companies and consumer electronics firms for the consumer market and through the Oracle sales force, systems integrators, and PC makers to cover the corporate side.

Oracle's NC software will be available initially in English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish.

On the other side of the globe, Oracle expects to roll out NCs for the corporate market in Tokyo on April 16. Brasche said Oracle currently has no plans for a separate NC sales subsidiary in Asia, where it will rely on Oracle's regular sales force and channels.