May 16, 1997 7:40 PM PDT

Oracle to take control of Navio

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Oracle's Network Computer Incorporated is expected to acquire Netscape's major equity stake in Navio Communications in a stock swap to be announced Monday, according to sources familiar with the deal.

NCI's president, Jerry Baker, is expected to head the company, which makes browsers for non-PC devices such as network computers, information appliances, television sets, and video game machines. Wei Yen, a former senior vice president of Silicon Graphics, now is CEO and president of Navio. Netscape founder Jim Clark is chairman.

Officials at Navio, Netscape, and Oracle would not comment on the deal, but Netscape CEO Jim Barksdale and Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison have scheduled an announcement Monday. One Navio employee said workers were summoned to an important meeting late today, perhaps to learn about the deal.

Netscape formed Navio last August as an affiliate. The company, one of many investors, holds a major equity stake. At the time, Nintendo, Sony, Sega, NEC, IBM, and Oracle also backed the effort.

Industry executives said the deal makes sense. "Navio has a product but no platform, and NCI has a platform but no product," said one familiar with the deal.

Steve Perlman, chief executive of WebTV Networks, noted that NCI has been focused on desktop Network Computers for corporations, not home boxes for consumers.

"It would be a good thing for the category," Perlman said. "It's better having two major players like Navio and WebTV in addition to a bunch of smaller players."

Microsoft announced that it would buy WebTV for $425 million on April 6.

Reuters first broke the news that a deal between Oracle and Navio was in the works, reporting late today that the database giant would buy the browser company. Sources, however, said the deal called for NCI to buy Netscape's major stake in a stock swap, not an outright sale.

Word of the pending deal took some Navio customers by surprise. An executive with Tektronix, which plans to use Navio Navigator technology in its netstations, said he was not aware of the deal. "We have protections [under our contracts for a change in ownership]," he said. "It won't affect us, at least in the near term."

Reporter Tim Clark contributed to this story.

 

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