PARIS (09-04-95) - Oracle Corp.'s Larry Ellison and Microsoft Corp.'s Bill Gates today offered vastly different visions of how today's computer companies will be able to plug into the consumer market of the future.
The two information technology industy leaders both said, however, that the Internet is helping to move the industry from a desktop-centric to a network-centric view of computing. Gates, Ellison and market analysts spoke to the European IT Forum 1995, sponsored by market-research company International Data Corp.
Widespread interest in the Internet and the convergence of the computer, broadcast and consumer electronics industries are providing new opportunities for IT companies, according to David Moschella, a senior vice president at IDC.
Moschella said the big question for the IT industry is whether "PC companies transform themselves to take advantage of the revolution in communications."
As examples of what Oracle is doing to take advantage of the exploding interest in the Internet, Ellison today showed off upcoming Oracle Web server and browser software.
Oracle has the upper hand in efforts to deliver multimedia content to users over the Internet, said Ellison, because the company is focused on database technology.
"Oracle does one thing, and one thing only, very well -- we deliver vast amounts of data to users," he said.
To demonstrate that the company is on track to bring its database technology to the Internet, Ellison showed off how Oracle's new World Wide Web software could be used to dial from Paris into a server in California.
Using the Web browser, Ellison dialed over an ISDN line into the company's Web server, located in California, and proceeded to pick selections from a music library, listening to songs from various artists and playing a music video.
"The Internet Web browser browses video and is programmable ... it has the Java language built into it," said Ellison, explaining that the browser can be programmed to search on user-defined criteria. The Java language is a SunSoft, Inc. authoring tool that allows users to download executable prgrams from the Internet or other networks. The new browser is also NetScape compatible, Ellison added.
Ellison said that Oracle was trying to coordinate the timing of the new Internet tools and the new version of the company's database, but even if the new tools -- set for release in Novemeber -- are available first, they will be incorporated into Oracle 7.3 as soon as it is available.
The new programmable Web tools are easy enough to use to let consumers explore the Internet on their own, said Ellison.
"The Micosoft Network is probably the last of the on-line services to be built on the Club Med model -- come on in and you're safe," said Ellison. "The Internet model is a little riskier but richer culturally."
Ellison's vision of what the PC will look like in the near future also differed from the vision offered by Gates later in the day.
"We believe the world is moving from a desktop point of view to a network-centric point of view, and when you have a network-centric point of view you don't need a device as complicated as a PC," said Ellison. "You can get a terminal for as much as US$400 to $500."
In Ellison's view, software, applications and content will reside on the network, and users will have terminals in their homes to select what they want from the network. Users will want to avoid PC hardware and support services that cost up to $5,000 per year per desktop, said Ellison.
The device that consumers will want can be considered a type of "Internet appliance," Ellsion said.
"A PC is a ridiculous device; the idea is so complicated and expensive," he said. "What the world really wants is to plug into a wall to get electronic power and plug in to get data."
Gates, speaking later in the morning, also focused on the communications theme.
"Multimedia is becoming standard on PCs," Gates said. "The key theme is the idea of the PC as communication tool."
However, Gates differed sharply from Ellison in his vision of the future form of the PC. PCs will not turn into dumb terminals, said Gates, and will need intelligence and storage capacity.
"You'll still need a way of storing the applications that you download from the network, and your personal data," said Gates.
But PCs will be transformed, he said.
"You'll find that the PC will take on new forms; wallet PCs will be carried around and you'll see kiosk PCs and portable PCs that will all be hooked up into a unified network that provides a rich set of applications."
Gates also said that over the next year, Microsoft will work with a major computer vendor to develop a wallet-sized PC, a concept that he has often expounded on during keynote speeches but the likes of which has never come to market. This could be in part to the lack of success that other handheld computers have experienced, he noted.
"I expected [Apple Computer Inc.'s] Newton and General Magic [Inc.] to do better, it's stunning how poorly those products have done," he said.
Yet Microsoft remains committed to the walet PC, he said, and plans to co-develop a product that will carry a price tag of under US$500, that will have good wireless communications abilities, and that will provide connectivity with PCs, he said.
Microsoft is also working with telecommunications companies to develop telecom infrastructures so that the cost of communication-- apart from data and content--will be "almost free."
Though Gates' and Ellison's ideas about how the PC will change differed, most speakers agreed that communications is the central theme to today's IT industry.
"This is the most exciting period in our industry since the beginning of the peronal computer industry," said IDC's Moschella. "The industry has rediscovered a sense of mission."
(Additional reporting by Cara A. Cunningham, IDG News Service Paris correspondent)
[Copyright 1995 IDG News Service, International Data Group Inc. All rights reserved.]