Is Larry Ellison planning to get into the netbook business? The Oracle boss is hinting in that direction and, while it makes little sense, with Ellison anything is possible, at least to talk about. Delivering is another story.
Getting into the netbook business would finally allow Ellison to offer the "$500 PC" he promised his mom more than a decade ago. Today, such a device would more likely be a $350 unit and, if Ellison gets his way, would be built around Java, which becomes an Oracle technology through its acquisition of Sun Microsystems.
Speaking this week at JavaOne, Ellison broadly hinted that Oracle would get into the consumer electronics business, offering netbook-like machines that would compete with the Acers, HPs, Dells, and Lenovos of the world.
It is not clear whether Ellison was really serious or merely indulging his fantasy that Oracle will overtake Microsoft's industry dominance, tarnished though it is. Anything that builds Java, especially as a platform that competes with Windows, would benefit Sun/Oracle at Redmond's expense.
Whether a netbook is worth the bother is something for Ellison and the marketplace to device, but I think not.
The hottest segment of the computer industry as the moment, netbooks are also highly competitive. An Oracle netbook initiative could be very distracting for the company as it seeks to integrate Sun's product families into its own.
With narrow profit margins and rapid technology changes, netbooks are a distraction Oracle simply doesn't need, though talking about them gives Ellison a chance to make the case that Java still has untapped potential.
If Ellison actually wants to see his netbook dreams realized, Oracle would be well advised to develop a Java-based netbook software load that could be dropped onto a generic non-Windows-based netbook, perhaps running Android or, more likely, Linux.
Oracle could put either its own or Sun's brand on the device, which would be manufactured and marketed by someone who is already a netbook player. Or it could simply carry a Java brand along with that of the hardware manufacturer.
The upside of this would be getting into the market less expensively and with an established hardware partner. The downside is the potential for another embarrassing Ellison-led attempt to create a new platform, something it isn't clear the world really needs or wants.