Network Computer challenge to PC market domination (July 1996)

A Sun-Apple-IBM-Oracle-Netscape alliance is in the offing to manufacture and market the new PC-killing diskless Internet workstation, dubbed the Network Computer (NC).

The idea, which Larry Ellison president of Oracle Corp has dreamed up to wage battle with Bill Gates, is that instead of having "expansive" software on a "complicated" hard disk, the Network Computer becomes an Internet terminal downloading applets (such as a slimmed down word processor or even an upgraded operating system).

Oracle data bases

This machine is to be sold for something like $500, and will make intensive use of ... Oracle databases over the net. The machine’s specs as outlined in the NC Reference Profile - 1 are the following. "The hardware guidelines cover a minimum screen resolution of 640 x 480 (VGA) or equivalent, a pointing device (mouse or track ball), text input capabilities and audio output.

The agreed upon Internet protocol are Transmission Control Protocol TCP), File Transfer Protocol (FTP), optional support of NFS to enable low-cost, media-less devices while allowing for persistent storage in the network and SMTP, a protocol enabling the distributed management of devices. The profile further adheres to World Wide Web standards HTML, HTRP and the Java Application Environment, as well as to mainstream mail protocol (SMTP, IMAP4, POP3) and common data formats such as JPEG, GIF, WAV and AU. Optional security features are supported through emerging security APIS; security standards are ISO 7816 SmartCards and the EMV (Europay/MasterCard/Visa) specification.

Business world

A Gartner Group forecast reported recently that Internet Terminals in 2001 could makeup 50% of the home market for networked devices but would be unlikely to go above 20% in the business world. Now there are some aspects of this idea that don't stand up to real close examination.

Today’s PC software is unbelievably cheap and using a modern PC is becoming simpler with innovations such as Plug and Play hardware, and software Wizard technology.

Too powerful

The NC pundits have claimed that the modern PC is "too powerful", and while this sentiment may well be echoed by some IT managers, we have yet to hear an end-user bemoan his excess of computing power. Also, because the NC alliance does not actually own the Internet, despite what they might like to think, other players will likely be able to emulate successful parts of the whole in NC windows for PCs. The position of Sun and Apple is intriguing in this respect. Will the Internet applets run on Sparcs and Macs? Although this is unlikely, it could make for some radical rethinking of software pricing on these platforms.

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