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February 26, 1996

Oracle to Begin Shipping New Data Base Software

By JOHN MARKOFF

SAN FRANCISCO -- Oracle Corp., continuing its emphasis on making information storehouses more accessible over computer networks, plans Monday to begin shipping a new version of its industry-leading Oracle 7 data base software program.

And at a news conference Monday afternoon, the company's founder and chairman, Larry Ellison, is to demonstrate the first experimental model of a stripped-down, $500 computer intended solely for connecting to the Internet worldwide computer network.

Unlike current personal computers, the new machine, the Network Computer -- or NC, as Oracle refers to it -- would have no disk drive. The assumption is that most of the data and software the machine and its user would need will be in data bases accessible through a network.

"We're moving toward a world where all of your data will be managed centrally," Ellison said in an interview.

The machine, which has been designed, but will not be manufactured by Oracle, will be licensed to other computer makers, Ellison said. It includes a microprocessor developed by a British chip designer, ARM Ltd., as well as memory and a network connection. The total cost of the parts, which do not include a display monitor, is about $250.

Analysts said that Oracle was introducing its new software and hardware blueprint now, at least in part as a response to pressure from Informix, a competitor in the data base software market. Both companies call their newest data base programs "universal servers," because they can store a variety of data, including text, numbers, video and sound.

Late last year, Informix acquired Illustra Information Technologies, in an effort to leapfrog data base giants like Oracle, IBM and Sybase. Illustra, based in Oakland, Calif., was a small start-up company that had created a data base program to manage information in multimedia forms.

Despite Oracle's new focus on the Internet market, analysts said its new data base software and the NC computer design represented essentially the same technological vision that Oracle began promoting several years ago, when the company was a leading proponent of interactive television. What is now being described as a network computer was originally conceived as a television set-top box enabling viewers to order video programs and information.

Despite ambitious experiments by some cable television and telephone companies, the interactive television market has not caught on.

"The irony is that Oracle had been talking over the past three years about interactive television," said Marshall Senk, a financial analyst at Robertson, Stephens in San Francisco. "Now they're back to sell the same technology for the Internet."

Ellison attributed the shortcomings of the interactive television market to a failure by large telephone and cable companies to invest sufficiently.

"The phone companies never built the broadband networks," he said. "We built the NC and the video server. Now we're trying to figure out how to recover that investment."

Ellison said he thought that Oracle's data base software had a technological lead over its competitors in its ability to store and send video data and to manage textual information.

He said the software was suited to server computers for the Internet's World Wide Web, which need to organize increasingly large amounts of multimedia information.


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