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Ellison showcases his NC baby

With the network computer, the Oracle chief says, people will no longer have to pay Bill Gates billions of dollars. Instead, they will pay him.

With the network computer, the people of the world will no longer have to pay Bill Gates billions of dollars, Oracle (ORCL) CEO Larry Ellison told the Newspaper Association of America today. Instead, they will pay Ellison himself.

Under Ellison's NC vision, hardware is relatively cheap: single desktops range from $295 to $795 while a five-person network complete with servers, clients, and smart cards can be had for $5,995. In his own words, The NC is the Volkswagen of computing.

The expense comes in paying Internet service providers and companies like Oracle for support because none of the applications or data will reside at the desktop. All functionality has to be imported.

"The NC has no software. The NC has no data. All the complexity has been moved off of the desktop to a professional company like AT&T," Ellison told the audience at the San Francisco convention. The operating system for clients and servers in NC networks will also be free, he said. Instead, "what they will pay for is support"--and, of course, they will pay software vendors like Oracle for applications as well as storage.

Oracle and subsidiary Network Computing Incorporated are negotiating with some of the larger ISPs in the country, "and we hope to have an agreement in the near future." On the hardware side, four to five manufacturers will be releasing NCs commercially this August with more signing on by September. Companies will also come out with value priced hardware and software server packages priced between $1,995 and $9,995.

Although the NC strategy as outlined by Ellison means that companies and individuals will have to trust a third party to hold all of their data, he bristled at the notion that any person's privacy or autonomy will be compromised.

First, he brusquely told an audience member, "I can break into your hard drive right now." Second, Oracle's databases, on which people will have to rent space in the future, are more secure than PC technology.

"The FBI, the CIA are Oracle customers. MI5 [the British secret service] was an Oracle customer. The KGB was a big user. We are very good at keeping information for people who are supposed to have it," he said. As Oracle customers, however, these agencies maintain their own databases, unlike potential NC customers.

The Oracle chairman also admitted that the network computer isn't an all-purpose machine. "I would never recommend that you do Autocad or PhotoShop on this machine. If you are going to do that sort of thing, I would recommend getting a PC," he said. "I never thought that the NC would replace all the PCs, just as I never predicted that a Volkswagen would replace a Ferrari.

"Some people buy cars that get them from A to B and some people buy cars to get them better dates," he quipped.

As for the slowness of current networks, it's improving. High-speed ADSL services from ISPs and improved modems will make network computing feasible for the home.

Inadvertently, Ellison also demonstrated how difficult the future can be. To show how easy and quick an NC was, Ellison logged onto a page on CNN Interactive. "We're live on the Internet," Ellison said.

The film clip, however, was not. "Next week, the Soviets are planning to launch a manned space station in honor of next week's Communist Party Congress," the CNN announcer said. Apparently, it was oldies time at the station.