US Report: Ellison says Gates is a 'liar'

Oracle chairman Larry Ellison accused Bill Gates of "lying" about Microsoft's record of innovation and went back on the warpath against the PC, saying it will be outnumbered by network appliances in a few years.

Speaking at Harvard University's Conference on the Internet and Society, the heavily partisan Ellison, prone to hyperbole and dependably colourful, also extolled the merits of Web-based education and admitted that Oracle has conducted merger talks with Netscape.

"Microsoft has innovated nothing. The thing I find most contemptible is Bill's lying, this thing about innovating. It makes me want to puke. That's innovation a la Rockefeller, not innovation a la Edison," the database tycoon said. He added that the Excel spreadsheet is the only Microsoft product with demonstrable innovation.

Pressed on what remedies the U.S. Department of Justice should apply in its suit against the software giant, Ellison at first said he didn't know. Later, however, he suggested that Microsoft should be stripped of its Internet Explorer and forced to re-enter the browser business with a product built from the ground up.

"They should stop raising the price of their operating system and doing poor copies of Netscape [Navigator]," Ellison charged. He claimed Microsoft has consistently raised prices on Windows and that the browser is not free as many think.

The DoJ should determine whether Microsoft must pay a fine for revenues that can be traced back to IE 4.0 and what he called the Windows monopoly.

As for buying Netscape, Ellison said talks were held, but "not recently." Asked for details, he said "no comment."

In the interview, Ellison conceded the network computer has not caught on, due largely to falling PC prices. However, he said the vast majority of Web surfers need only a device that runs a browser.

"It's got to be low-cost and easy to use. All you need to a browser," he said. "The data and applications should be off the desktop and on the servers."

Ellison also complained that PCs are too complex and carry too much overhead. "I never would have guessed PC prices would drop so low," he said. His revised vision of a network appliance includes anything from a telephone to a computer as long as it runs a browser.

Ellison admitted that the Macintosh is the same laggard as the PC but added that "it is still easier to use." He considered buying Apple and is a strong supporter of its CEO-in-residence at the moment, Steve Jobs.

In his speech, Ellison conceded to hitting on several "random" subjects, but most of the time he stressed "K though 80" education (i.e., learning that never stops) over the Web. He said Oracle has given $100m (£61.3m) to equip schools in California with PCs and networks and that the company spends $1bn (£613.5m) on training annually.

Ellison added that Oracle is in the market to buy Web-based educational firms for its new company, Knowledge University.

Looking to the future, he said more people than not, worldwide, will have access to the Web by the year 2010. Also, such countries as China will present "vigorous" competition to the U.S. because it will eventually have more engineers and more people.