Oracle Corp chief executive Larry Ellison chose Japan for yesterday’s network computer launch, but so much verbiage has already been expended on Oracle’s network computer vision that its big day in Japan had a very familiar look about it, despite the hypefest. The eight models of network appliances cost between $300 and $800 – the same price as a TV, crowed Ellison. He announced a couple of new partners for the NCs, adding Digital Equipment Corp and Phillips Electronics NV to yesterday’s disclosure of Accton Technology Corp. Philips will be building Intel-based boxes for release in June in Asia and later in Europe, and DEC will do servers. Existing NC manufacturers are: Funai, Uniden and Zenith, RCA, Proton, Aranex, Akai and Acorn. The NCs are powered by either Intel or DEC StrongARM chips, the former at 133Mhz and 200Mhz, and the latter at 230Mhz. They have what is termed a VUI – video user interface – which provides a video help at the click of a button. Every NC has the same configuration, in a sealed box:16Mb RAM, a network interface card, Ethernet or a 33.6Kbps modem. This NC appliance comes with the NCOS operating system, written by Oracle from a NetBSD freeware kernel, and the NC Desktop, which Oracle susidiary, Network Computer Inc (NCI) was until recently calling NC Access. It’s a suite of tools such as e-mail, calendar, address book, Netscape Navigator, file manager and a news ticker. It can either be stored in ROM or on the server. NC Servers, which will cost between $1500 and $10,000 have a configuration of 64Mb RAM and 3Gb hard disk, and come equipped with the NCOS; NC Services for configuring the client machines, updating the software and users authentication, and applications, including Oracle Designer and Developer 2000 and Web Forms, Report and Graph; HTML-based editor and presentation tool; and terminal emulation for 3270, 5250 and VT220 terminals. The top end server is the NC Data Server, which runs the NCOS, Oracle Universal database and Web Server. The third element in the NC platform is NC Card which is software for reading the smart cards that are inserted into the front of the boxes. It’s only meant for user-authentication on local area networks right now, but will support roaming in the future, says Oracle. The Windows emulation software has been licensed from an unnamed third party that we understand to be Exodus Technologies Inc. Oracle has packaged five clients and one server and all the necessary cables in a bundle called the Network in a Box. Ellison demonstrated connecting the client and server by plugging in the cables connecting each monitor and the network. Then he acted as a system administrator, inserting his smart card to register a new user and create another smart card for that user. At the Oracle Open World exhibition, the machine that was available for hands-on experimentation was the Funai, running a Japanese NC OS, which did not seem quite complete in that it did not accept Japanese input, but could display Japanese characters. Ellison admitted that at the current rates for local calls in Japan, the NC probably did not make sense for use at home without a server. 30 software vendor partners have been involved in proof-of-concept testing over the past few months in Japan, and by June this will increase to 50 partners. By July the Japanese interface will be completely localized.