As Oracle and others talk about network computers (NCs), Apple has already produced a box that almost meets the requirements of an NC. Apple's Pippin has been in the works for some time and is now available in Japan and the United States officially, and - unofficially - in Hong Kong. According to some reports, Pippin is doing well in Japan, with more than 16,000 sold in the first month. The problem at the moment is not being able to make them fast enough. Pippin is based on a PowerPC 603 RISC (reduced instruction set computing) chip, with six megabytes of memory, a 4x CD-Rom, and ports for modem and keyboard. Apple's original idea was to take advantage of the 'second' computer market. In the US, half of the computers sold go into homes where a computer already exists. Some people think the Pippin would be the perfect machine for those who already have a computer at home and want something that would please another member of the family. If the main computer is already being used and another member of the house wants to use the Internet, then Pippin could be the answer. This, at least, is the way some people see it. What makes Pippin special is that it can log on to the Internet and play CD-Rom games or those downloaded from the Internet. This ability to log on to the Internet and play games for about US$500 is what Apple and others are hoping will sell like hot cakes. 'We think that Pippin is such an important technology that we are going to do a Web-browser version and sell it under the Apple logo,' Apple chief executive Gilbert Amelio said at a recent Apple conference in San Jose, California. Some Pippins have turned up in Hong Kong, but they can only run games created in Japan. If the machine becomes popular, this may change. One advantage that developers have in trying to write for Pippin is that it is about 90 per cent Macintosh compatible. This means that the process of development should not be much longer than for the Mac. Most of the Macintosh ToolBox is supported. The big difference is that Pippin can use an ordinary television as a display, but this means that the colours and the resolution will not be the same as for a normal computer monitor. Some developers have expressed frustration with this problem. Critics have said they do not understand who the Pippin is aimed at. There is no disk drive, so updates of the software may have to come from CD-Roms, rather than from the Internet. They could come from the Internet if there was a way to save them but without any form of disk drive, this would be difficult. Apple seems confident the design is right. You can, if you want, add almost anything. However, for the hard-core Web surfer and game player, the Pippin is surely enough. Apple may have a good thing here. They were almost right about the Newton - right idea, wrong time. Pippin's success or failure could have serious implications for Apple. If it succeeds, then Apple's future would look a lot better.