IBM edges into search for next computer generation

Published in July 1992 (Computer Jagat)

New York, June 1— IBM recently outlined a broad-based future product plan that both impressed analysts and left them skeptical. IBM’s scope pleased analysts, but its vision of a radically different computing paradigm raised questions as to how it would happen.

IBM executives outlined a two-year product cycle that on the hardware side ranged from a family of handheld devices to high-end “video” file servers that handle multimedia applications over a wide-area network.

“Many people won’t recognize it is a computer they’re buying,” James A. Cannavino, general manager of the IBM Personal Systems Division, said of some of IBM’s upcoming systems.

Though Cannavino and the other executives offered few specifics, handheld personal computers could in fact seem more like consumer electronics products. Cannavino also pointed to a broad range of hardware and software alliances that will create new types of products. Cannavino said IBM envisions technology being used in such a way as to “in some cases… make obsolete the way we’ve done things before.”

He pointed to reduced travel needs through the use of videoconferencing tools, for instance, and advances in portable computing and communications that might allow companies to move away from the traditional office environment entirely.

He said the company invested heavily in licensing new technologies and saw communications devices and object-oriented software as key initiatives.

IBM will also push to develop new server environments that can handle much more data than today’s can. The company said it sees Notes servers, – dedicated to handling communications run over Lotus Development Corp.’s Notes package, that will allow users to build local area networks around so-called flat databases with easy access to unstructured data.

This could make for an environment where a user would be able to enter a name and receive a list of all documents in the database where that name occurs and the context in which it is used, for instance.

These types of systems will be followed to market by vastly, more powerful video servers, which will nave full multimedia (data and motion video) capabilities and will connect wide-area networks.

IBM will also push infrared and cellular, or radio-frequency, communications as a way to transmit data as well as video, prompting some analysts to say it is trying to circumvent telephone companies.

Cannavino said IBM‘s server vision might culminate in a “personal” server. This might be the size of a common stereo component and yet be powerful enough to run motion video applications easily; it could also be mobile.

IBM also intends to build, or perhaps license, handheld personal digital assistants. Motorola, Inc. was cited as a business partner in this effort, which could produce a pen-based system that would be held in one hand and allow users to keep in contact with their offices.

Cannavino said IBM sees communications speed and capabilities increasing as fast, or faster, than the rate of microprocessor development. Microprocessors double in speed roughly every 18 months.

“There’s a paradigm shift coming in communications.” he said. unqualified in their praise.

“They have lots of good ideas,” said Dan Ness Jr., an analyst at Computer Intelligence in La Jolla, Calif. “The question is, how they Analysts pointed out that IBM would likely have company in its efforts, with some partners, such as Apple Computer, Inc., proving fierce competitors. Analysts said IBM had presented impressive ideas, although few observers were market them?”

Some analysts who attended the briefing expressed skepticism over IBM’s plans. “They want us to be in hydro boats, but they’re giving us rowboats right now,” said Gerald Michalski, vice president at New Science Associate Inc., a consultancy in Southport, Conn. At the same time, Michalski added that he liked many of the elements of IBM’s PC strategy and said, “I don’t see anyone else going front to back like IBM.”

Several products likely to appear before the end of 1992 are a 1.7-in. hard drive that can hold 40M bytes of data and a Token Ring network adapter that is roughly the size of a credit cad. Both devices are compatible with the flash card standard established by the Personal Computer Memory Card International Association. A clock-doubler version of its 20-MHz I486SLC chip was also on display.

Robert Carberry, assistant general manager of IBM’s Entry Systems Division, said a voice-recognition project called Tangora is also nearing the market. He also said the 80M bit/sec. Micro Channel Architecture recently announced on the RISC System/6000 will appear in Personal System/2s in the future.

Looking ahead

IBM’s Personal Systems Division’s strategy for the next 18 to 24 months is as follows:

Servers :

* Lotus Notes-specific application server to act as a “flat” database.

*    Video server—designed with improved bandwidth and compression to run multimedia applications— will run data and video over telephone lines or through infrared and RF connections. (These video servers may fall into a category IBM calls “personal” servers, the size of a stereo component, which individuals will be able to use.)

*    Tangora voice recognition product, designed for use with PCs.

Portables :

*    A family of handheld Personal Digital Assistants that communicate through wireless technology.

*     PCMCIA-compatible Token Ring adapter card.

*     PCMCIA-compatible 1.8-in., 40M-byte hard drive.

— Michael Fitzgerald

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