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Oracle, IBM, Sun take NC on road

The champions of the network computer will announce a new standard on Monday for mobile NCs.

The powers-that-be behind the network computer will on Monday announce a new design for the traveling NC.

Oracle's Network Computer division will team with IBM (IBM) and Sun Microsystems (SUNW) to introduce protocols and standards for making portable NCs, according to sources familiar with the announcement. The sources said the new design will let hardware manufacturers make NC laptops, hand-held computers, and even cellular phones.

The three partners will unveil the design at events in New York and Tokyo. They will be joined by Toshiba, Mitsubishi, and Nokia, all of whom will announce support for the new mobile standard.

Representatives for Oracle, IBM, and Sun were not available for comment.

The NC is loosely defined as a computer that relies on a powerful server to do most of the application processing. Oracle has set out the design guidelines for the NC, but the specific configurations are determined by each individual hardware maker.

The JavaStation, for example, is a desktop NC with up to 64MB of memory but no hard drive, no slots for add-in cards, no floppy drive, and no CD-ROM drive.

So far, Oracle hasn't provided a "reference" design for mobile NCs.

Such a mobile standard will fill a much needed gap in the NC strategy, said Greg Blatnik, vice president at Zona Research. "The NC standards leave room for addition and expansion. One of the attacks on the NC has been that they are not mobile," he said.

Since the whole idea of the NC is that it is continually connected to a server or network, Blatnik expects that the design will call for some kind of wireless connectivity.

He added that a few companies have already shown off wireless NC protocols. At PC Expo in New York this week, for example, Wyse Technology demonstrated a NC with wireless networking for the health care market.

Although often derided by Oracle's rivals as being too weak and limited to compete with traditional PCs, demand for the NC has been rising. In a survey of the largest 100 U.S. companies, the Yankee Group earlier this year projected that 65 percent of respondents are planning to purchase NCs in the next two years. More than half of those purchases are for evaluation or testing, but systems integrators across the country also agree that interest in NCs among corporate users is growing.

On Tuesday, Oracle and NCI will host a working demonstration of an NC network in New York that will link 140 NCs to a backend server running the new Oracle 8 database, according to sources.