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Ellison says Apple NC a go

Oracle's chief reconfirms Apple' plans for NC while also commenting on Oracle's finances.

    LAS VEGAS, Nevada--In spite of weak financial results and a sagging stock price for his company, Oracle (ORCL) chairman and CEO Larry Ellison continued to stump for his vision of network computers (NC), offering an affirmation of Apple's upcoming NC, at the Consumer Electronics Show.

    Ellison continued to outline the role NCs will play in the future of computing and Oracle. One of the companies that could help fulfill Ellison's vision is Apple Computer (AAPL). Ellison, a member of the Cupertino, California, executive board, again reiterated Apple's plans to introduce an NC later this year, giving audience members a few new details about the device.

    "Initially they will be Mac OS-based NCs for education and home. I could get myself in trouble for saying this...if I say any more, I?ll get more email from my best friend," Ellison said in reference Steve Jobs, Apple?s interim CEO. "Mac OS" stands for Macintosh operating system.

    The "inexpensive" NC would be available either with or without a hard disk drive, Ellison noted. Earlier reports indicated the system would use a PowerPC 750 processor to power the system.

    The audience, consisting largely of buyers for retail electronics stores, were also interested in Oracle's plans for the NC hardware and software reference platform. Thomson Consumer Electronics, which is the parent company of RCA, is currently shipping an NC based on Oracle software that functions as an Internet access device, much like Microsoft's WebTV device. Ellison claimed that RCA sold out of its first-generation devices this Christmas, with shipments reaching the "tens of thousands," he said.

    As for the future of such devices, Oracle subsidiary Network Computer Incorporated is working to get its software used in the cable industry's next-generation digital set-top boxes, which in Oracle's vision are NCs for the home.

    Ellison noted that Oracle and NCI are working on the OpenCable project, which is headed by CableLabs, a research and development consortium of cable television system operators.

    The initiative is an attempt to develop a set of hardware and software standards for digital set-top boxes that can allow for use of a variety of processors or operating systems. These devices would replace the converter boxes on top of television sets that now merely unscramble TV signals.

    "The cable industry can?t be captive to any one person," he said. "The operating system should be an uninteresting piece of technology" that becomes "fungible": That is, developers stop writing applications to the operating system software and simply develop content for the Internet, Ellison said.

    Even as Ellison attempts to raise Oracle's profile in the consumer electronics industry, the company?s core database and services business has faltered of late. Other database companies are facing the same problem: The high end of the database business, where software companies sell multiple seat database licenses to large companies, is slowing down.

    Additionally, Oracle has been hit by weakened financial markets in Asia. Ellison discounted the idea that such problems would pose a continuing problem for his company, asserting that the underlying economies were strong.