Insiders at DEC have confirmed to us that its nascent StrongARM- based NC network computer initiative, dubbed Shark, has been quashed following the personal intervention of Bill Gates, Microsoft Corp CEO and richest man in the world. During a series of recent meetings (CI No 3,249), Gates, whose Windows NT operating system is so critical to what remains of DEC’s business, is said to have made DEC CEO Bob Palmer some sort of an offer he couldn’t refuse and as a result DEC will put Shark in a can. It will instead build a StrongARM-based device running Windows CE that conforms to Microsoft’s rival Windows Terminal model for thin client computing. We don’t know what induced Palmer’s change of heart and assume the fact that DEC’s Sharks were to run software supplied by Network Computer Inc, the NC subsidiary of Microsoft arch rival Oracle Corp, is of course purely co-incidental. DEC and Oracle have been friends ever since the two thought it would be a good idea to take advantage of the huge amounts of main memory supported by DEC’s AlphaServer and run a whole Oracle database in it. However even NCI admitted that DEC’s Shark plans have always been very unstable, not just because of the Microsoft connection, but also the competitive effect Shark might have on DEC’s own customers, vendors building NCs using StrongARM RISCs manufactured by its Digital Semiconductor division. Maybe the Gating factor tipped the balance. Meantime, official lines the company is likely to cast suggesting DEC can see no volume NC business materializing are said to be garbage. As well as showing Sharks at Oracle’s high- profile NCI roll-out in new York a few months back, DEC had 500 of the things plugged into the network at the recent Oracle World fest in Los Angeles. (Admittedly the network, which was running 1,000 NCs, foundered so badly on its first day that Larry Ellison’s keynote was ruined). Altogether DEC’s already manufactured 1,800 of the things. Driving off the Shark means DEC Semiconductor loses a customer for its implementation of Advanced RISC Machines Ltd’s StrongARM RISC, though it reportedly has eight others left, including Wyse Technology Inc and Funai Electric Co Ltd. What will happen to the Shark work hangs in the balance, but as one insider observed, the toothpaste is out of the tube. DEC’s Windows Terminal won’t be created by the Shark team.
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