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The man who would be king, er, shogun


5 min read
CNET News.com Newsmakers
September 4, 1996, Larry Ellison
The man who would be king, er, shogun
By Margie Wylie and Rose Aguilar
Staff Writers, CNET NEWS.COM

Larry Ellison craves the best of everything.

More than anything, though, the founder of the $4 billion database company longs to be the most influential man in the personal computer market. Maybe that's why playing second fiddle to the undergroomed, underrefined and overexposed Bill Gates is such a thorn in his side.

From groupware to interactive television and personal digital assistants, Ellison has dabbled in The Next Big Thing for years now in an attempt to top Microsoft. Industry-types may whisper behind their hands about Larry's latest hare-brained scheme to beat Gates, but in the presence of the Oz -- so-called because of the Oracle campus's uncanny resemblance to The Emerald City -- they genuflect. Ellison deserves the respect if for no other reason than his restraint. He has never let his obsessions overwhelm his successful database business.

Ellison was still tanned from two weeks of racing his yacht in Hawaii (he won) and wearing an Armani original suit when he sat down with us to discuss Oracle's branded Network Computer at a San Francisco Junior League reception. Rubbing shoulders with Duponts, he preached a populist sermon about the $500 Internet device, a computer for, well, almost anyone but the crowd milling around us.

NEWS.COM: When do you see the NC taking off? Ellison: The NC comes out in September, and I think that in the first four to six months it will shake itself out, improve the software, get all the networks up and running and drive awareness. By the middle of next year, I think it's going to be explosive growth.

NEXT: Browser wars

Larry Ellison

Age: 50

Strength: Chutzpah

Weakness: The limelight

Best buddy: Steve Jobs, Apple, Pixar, NeXT founder

Conceits: $40 million Japanese-style compound

Thrills: Yacht racing

CNET News.com Newsmakers
September 4, 1996, Larry Ellison
Browser wars

So are you marketing this more at novice users? I think that everyone from novice users to experienced PC users with a PC at home already, but they want to be able to give their kids computers. They'll want to have a computer in their guest room. The NC is as much a communication device as a computation device, so think of it as a television with its own telecommunications. You won't have one in the house; you'll have several. They'll be very low cost, very easy to use, and it can help you in several ways.

What do you think of the browser wars that are going on right now?
I think that it's very hard to compete with free. Microsoft is offering their browser for free. They have thousands and thousands of programmers, compared to Netscape's hundreds and hundreds of programmers. I think Microsoft's tactics are questionable, but as long as Microsoft keeps on giving away their technology for nothing, Netscape's going to have a hard time competing.

What about the content deals?
You mean the Wall Street Journal deal? That's even worse. Microsoft isn't just giving their stuff away for free; they are paying people to use their stuff, so it's going to be very difficult for Netscape to compete, and I think Netscape's got every right to complain to the government. What if Microsoft gave everyone a dollar or 10 dollars for using their browser? It's really dicey for Netscape.

NEXT: Microsoft's big heart


CNET News.com Newsmakers
September 4, 1996, Larry Ellison
Microsoft's big heart

What do you think of Microsoft's pledge to help Apple not die by developing more software for the Mac?
I think that's nonsense. Microsoft has always had its software running on Macintosh, I don't think that they're helping Apple so that Apple doesn't die. I think Microsoft views Apple as a serious threat, but they'd rather have Apple around than Netscape. Bill Gates has been quoted in the press as saying he's going to make Netscape meat, drive them out of business, give the stuff away for free. Apple is no threat to Microsoft. Microsoft is moving aggressively against Netscape. I think they are neither helping nor hurting Apple right now. They probably hope Apple stays around with an insignificant four or five percent market share so they can point to Apple and say "oh no, we don't have a monopoly."

We hear about Microsoft and Netscape in the news about the Internet everyday, where does Oracle play in that?
Oracle provides the server technology, and Oracle's providing the Network Computer. When the Network Computer comes out you're going to see a lot of us. We typically have never sold consumer products. This is the first time that we've gone into the consumer space with the Oracle name and we'll be out there a lot more. I think the Network Computer is going to grab people in because it's so easy to use and so inexpensive. People want easier to use PCs. They want lower-cost PCs. A lot of people can't afford a PC. A lot of people don't want to learn to use a PC. Everyone should have electronic mail. Everyone should have access to the Web, not just an elite who can afford to take the time to learn the PC and afford the purchase price.

Turning to the presidential election, who do you think will do a better job for Silicon Valley, Clinton or Dole?
That remains to be seen. I'm going to speak at the Democratic National Convention this weekend. The Dole campaign has come out very aggressively for some things that I'm against, probably Proposition 211. Those are important issues for Silicon Valley. I think right now both candidates seem pretty pro-Silicon Valley. That's very encouraging, so it's really hard to pick.

A year ago, the Junior League would never have thought of going on the Internet. What do you think their Web presence indicates?
I think that whether you're a store engaging in commerce or you're a charitable organization trying to raise money and trying to get volunteers to contribute their time, the Internet is a wonderful way to reach out and access 30 percent of all households in the U.S. It's really astounding.