May 20, 1999 11:55 AM PDT

NCI changes name, files for IPO

Network Computer yesterday landed a $50 million financing round from corporate and cable investors, changed its name to Liberate Technologies, and filed to go public.

Investors in Liberate include Comcast, Cox Communications, General Instrument, Hambrecht & Quist, Lucent Technologies, Marubeni, MediaOne Ventures, Rogers Communications, Shaw Communications, Sun Microsystems, and Wind River Systems.

The former NCI was originally formed to perpetuate Oracle chief executive Larry Ellison's vision of a stripped-down computer that relies on powerful servers to run its data and software programs. After a tremendous amount of hype, the network computer did almost nothing to unseat the PC and Microsoft's dominance of the software market. But rather than die off, NCI eventually refocused on supplying software for information appliances and has lately scored some big contracts.

Recent wins include a deal to use Liberate's software in TV set-top boxes that will bring America Online to the television set. The company is also supplying software for use by US West to provide interactive TV and telephony services. Liberate has also had success with Japanese and European companies.

If deals with the cable companies investing in Liberate come through, it could emerge as a strong competitor to Microsoft in the TV set-top market, in spite of Microsoft's high-profile moves in that arena. The software giant recently showed its hand when it announced a $5 billion investment in AT&T to get its Windows CE operating software in more TV set-top boxes.

During a press conference yesterday, Mitchell Kertzman, chief executive of Liberate, called investments by cable operators an "indication of interest in our technology." But, citing the company's "quiet period," he declined to state when Liberate's technologies might be adopted. "We're certainly hopeful what [the investments] will lead to. We'll leave specific announcements to a later date."

Yesterday, Greg Blatnick, a Zona Research analyst, said an IPO would help the company gain "more working capital [and] help them develop and become more competitive."

The name change is intended to help the company shed the baggage it carried regarding the network computer saga.

"The network computer as a product really fizzled and crashed to earth, after an enormous amount of hype," Blatnick said. "They had to get away from that."

Kertzman said the firm's old name "referred to some of our past, including some involvement in the hardware side of the business."

"[The name] Liberate reflects that we are a software company and we provide software infrastructure to support the deployment of information appliances of all kinds," he said.

 

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