NCI liberated with $50M investment

A name change makes it official: Network computers are passe. Interactive TV is the new thing.

The future, it seems, is interactive TV.

At least it is for information appliance software maker Network Computer Inc. NCI on Wednesday changed its name to Liberate Technologies Inc. and scored $50 million from 11 partners in a private round of financing.

"Network Computer, our old name, reflected our past," said Mitchell Kertzman, president and CEO of the company, referring to its past christening by Larry Ellison, chairman of Oracle Corp. (Nasdaq:ORCL), as the company that would create the PC's replacement -- a network computer. "'Liberate' shows several things: That we are a software company, and that we are a champion of open standards."

Liberation for TV
The company has also arrayed a large band of backers in a $50 million round of financing.

The list of supporters includes cable operators Comcast Corp., Cox Communications, Roger Communications, Shaw Communications and MediaOne; set-top box maker General Instruments; technology developers Lucent Technologies Inc. (NYSE:LU), Sun Microsystems Inc. (Nasdaq:SUNW) and Wind River Systems; and investment firms Hambrecht & Quist and Marubeni.

Despite calling the investments "strategic," Kertzman did not expand on what initiatives Liberate would work on with its new partners. The company is currently going through a quiet period before it files for an initial public offering with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The new investors join several other major investors, including America Online Inc.(NYSE:AOL), Oracle, Sony Corp., NEC Corp., Sega Enterprises Ltd., Acer Corp., and Nintendo Co. Ltd.

Closing chapter for NC?
The name change ends a brief era for the company and the computer industry.

Network Computer was formed in 1996 to realize Ellison's vision of a networked computer that would replace the personal computer -- and come with no floppy disk drive and very little memory.

Netscape Communications Corp., now part of AOL, and Oracle parented the company, which initially focused on delivering thin-client computers to businesses.

Today, the company has fully made the switch from a corporate to a consumer focus. To date, Liberate has sold its interactive TV software to US West, AOL, and Cable & Wireless, among others.