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IBM, Sun, Oracle Agree on Net Box Standard


SAN FRANCISCO — The controversial concept of a scaled-down, inexpensive computer designed specifically for surfing the Internet will get a big boost Monday when IBM Corp., Sun Microsystems Inc. and Oracle Corp. announce agreement on a common specification for such devices.

In addition, Oracle on Monday will announce that Olivetti of Italy, Acer of Taiwan and Mitsubishi Electric Corp. of Japan have agreed to manufacture Oracle's version of the Internet device. Korean consumer electronics giants Gold Star and Samsung Electronics are also in talks with Oracle, sources said.

The idea of a network computer--also referred to as an Internet terminal or Net Box--has been one of the hottest topics in the computer industry over the past six months. Proponents, led by Oracle and Sun, say such devices, priced at around $500, will make the Internet accessible to a broad range of consumers who can't afford a traditional PC or don't want to learn how to use one. Apple Computer introduced one of the first such devices Wednesday, on the eve of the Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles.

The new machines use a TV set instead of a computer monitor, and they do not have hard disk drives, relying instead on data and software programs retrieved from the Internet.

Critics, led by Microsoft and others, say such machines will never take off because consumers are accustomed to what a full-blown PC offers. And low-end PCs already can be had for less than $1,000.

Regardless, the Internet computer concept is gaining momentum. The standard being proposed on Monday centers on Java, a software technology for animating content on the Internet, and one that has been endorsed by myriad companies, including Microsoft and Apple Computer Inc. Java will be the operating system--the software that governs the basic functions of a computer--for the device.

Java has the ability to run on a wide range of computer hardware, important since IBM, Sun and Oracle have each designed an Internet computer using a different microprocessor--the engine of any PC. Sun long has insisted that Java--which today is considered little more than a nifty feature--can be augmented to become a real computer operating system.

The three companies will also announce their support of certain communications technologies for accessing the Internet.

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