Oracle's NC does Rhapsody, Windows?!?

Dr. Ernest N. Prabhakar (ernest@pundit)
Thu, 17 Apr 97 07:10:12 -0700

>In a subsequent press conference, he also revealed it was exactly
>the same operating system as Apple's upcoming "Rhapsody" operating

Say what? Perhaps just referring to Mach, or is there a lot more
going on than I realize?

It is also interesting how he has hedged his bets:

>In a domestic environment, where users are not blessed with
>10-megabit per second network speeds, the software is stored on
>a CD-ROM disk

>The NC clients will also run Windows software, he said. The software
>runs on the server while the GUI (graphical user interface) is
>running on the client. The client can run NC-OS and Windows
>applications and the applications and data servers can run NC-OS,
>Windows NT and Unix applications.

Not sure what it all means, but this is the first time I actually
considered NCs might make a usable home platform. Not that I
"believe", but I'm willing to give it a second thought.

-- Ernie P.

TOKYO, JAPAN, 1997 APR 16 (NB) -- By Martyn Williams. With more
than a thousand of them in the adjoining exhibition hall, Oracle
Corporation's [NASDAQ:ORCL] chief executive officer, Larry Ellison,
unveiled the Network Computer (NC) platform to attendees of Oracle
Open World Japan in Tokyo today. Less than two years after originally
announcing his plans for the new, sub US$500 computer platform,
Ellison was able to demonstrate a range of machines with prices
starting from US$295.

For those that have followed the network computer plans from the
beginning, some additions were unveiled today that make the machines
a little less radical than those originally proposed, at least
for home use, but still a big move away from today's personal

The NC concept is like other networks, opened Ellison. It's a simple
piece of equipment that relies on a complex network. To illustrate
the point, he cited two examples: the telephone and television.
Each is a very simple piece of equipment and useless without a
network. The networks that back each device are very complex, but
that is of no consideration to the user. The NC is the same, a
simple terminal with all the complexity on the server side. A key
theme throughout the presentation, and the main driving force
behind the NC concept, is that personal computers are too complex
for most people to use.

Under the network computer model there are three main components
to a system, Ellison explained. The first, the NC client, is a
cheap piece of hardware that has a fast processor, permanent and
temporary memory, and interfaces to a network and peripheral
devices like monitors and keyboards. A typical NC will include an
Intel or ARM microprocessor, 16-megabytes (MB) of memory and a
network connection. The connection would typically be an Ethernet
connection on business versions and a 33.6-kilobits per second
(kbps) modem on the home models, which will also be fitted with
a CD-ROM drive.

The clients run a new Network Computer Operating System (NC-OS).
Ellison said the system was an open, standards based, 100-percent
Unix-compatible operating system. In a subsequent press conference,
he also revealed it was exactly the same operating system as
Apple's upcoming "Rhapsody" operating system.

The next component is the NC application server. In a business
environment, this is where all the programs are stored. The
application server is a standard Windows NT based personal computer
with 64-megabytes of memory and a large, one gigabyte, hard disk
drive, he noted.

The NC data server, the third component, is home to the personal
data of each network user. This is also a standard personal
computer server and would typically be similar to the application
server but with a larger hard drive, around three gigabytes. In
the suggested configuration, it runs Oracle's Universal Database
Server, which allows users to store anything from text and tables
to documents, audio and video, but system operators are free to
choose other databases.

Operation is simple. To start an NC, you need to insert your personal
identification card. This is a smart card that holds information
about who you are and your personal machine preferences. When a
NC client is switched on, it downloads all the programs it needs
from the application server. It also gets access to a users personal
data, which includes things like word processor files and e-mail.

In a domestic environment, where users are not blessed with 10-megabit
per second network speeds, the software is stored on a CD-ROM disk
and not downloaded over the network each time it is needed. This
is a departure from the original plans but, until such fast networks
are in the home, was really the only option.

In one of many attacks at Microsoft, Ellison said of Bill Gates'
comments that NC stands for "not compatible" and it will not run
Windows software, "He's wrong." The NC clients will also run Windows
software, he said. The software runs on the server while the GUI
(graphical user interface) is running on the client. The client
can run NC-OS and Windows applications and the applications and
data servers can run NC-OS, Windows NT and Unix applications.

The simplicity of the network computer system was the final area
of the presentation. Ellison announced that he would build an NC
network as his finale. In the corner of the stage was a pile of
boxes, the "network in a box," from which he pulled an NC client.
This was connected to monitor, keyboard, power and an Ethernet

The next stage, he continued, was a server. Pulling a standard NEC
desktop computer from another box the placed that on the desk and
connected the network, monitor keyboard and power. The system was
completely new, never having been assembled before, and so it would
require installing the software. A difficult task? No, he explained.
All the user needs do is place the NC software CD-ROM and floppy
in the applications server and hit the start button.

Some 20-minutes later, after demonstrating other aspects of the
system, the applications server was ready to run. All that was left
to do was install the client computers onto the network. This
required programming a user smart card, which was simply done on
the new client. Once the user smart card had been made, it just
required a re-boot of the NC and the system was up and running.

Learning to use the client is equally easy, he said. There are no
manuals and, in their place, a system called "Just in time learning."
The user calls up help whenever it is needed. This is presented,
not as text as in current systems but, as a video with someone
telling you what to do and video of the screen showing the operation
in action.

The cost for a five client system? Ellison said the entire system,
including the clients, server, cabling and anything else required,
could be purchased for less than US$5,000. This also includes the
costs required in licensing software, which was put at US$49 for
each user smart card and $99 per each for the software stored on
the server.

The standard NC installation includes Netscape Navigator, an e-mail
client, news reader, 3270, 5250 and VT220 terminal emulation software
and a text and HTML editor.

Icons for the software are arranged in a scrollable vertical toolbar
on the left hand side of the screen. Along the bottom is a news
ticker bar that will follow news and stock quotes. By defining
any subjects or special interest, or stocks you hold, the ticker
will follow those for you. This information is stored on your
smart card so you get the information whatever network computer
you are plugged in to.

In one of the many light-hearted moments of the presentation,
Ellison decided to define some stocks to watch. Reacting to
current industry speculation that he is about to launch a bid for
Apple Computer, he chose some stock like, "say ... Apple." Noting
the stock price he said, "Ah, the stock price is down. Must be a
good buy opportunity!"