Do sinister intentions lurk behind the razzmatazz?

Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 04/87 item 01 - scanned

It's a tough life being a writer. You get whisked on champagne flights to Glasgow. You see all the latest products early. Grand tours of factories and buffet lunches (which put most wedding receptions to shame) are laid on. Arms full of corporate documentation are provided, so that you have all the facts at your fingertips. The corporate gurus are on hand to answer all your questions, well aware that you won't have any nasty ones because you can't absorb the details before the flight back to London.

I refer, of course, to IBM's recent shindig.

It was very difficult not to get carried away with the slickness of the entire event. We saw robots stuffing circuit boards in multiple-football-pitch-sized factories. We saw pictures of robots assembling monitors in nine easy moves. We listened to presentation after presentation of how wonderful the new IBM systems were and how much work and money they brought to Britain.

In the end, and despite all the warning bells in your head, you are impressed.

And with good reason. IBM has really put itself out this time. None of your 'chuck it together and see if it sells' of the early PC days.

Personal System/2 has been carefully thought out and huge investments have been made in planning the strategy, in design and in manufacturing. Anyone thinking of making carbon copy clones is going to have to invest heavily and no doubt this is one of the reasons we were taken to one of the board-stuffing factories. We had to be able to visualise what it costs to do the job professionally. Okay, IBM succeeded. With me, anyway.

The next day, you recover from the euphoria, and wonder what it was all about. After all, apart from some lovely looking, well engineered hardware (Apricot does that too), most of the announcements were vapour-ware - things which will not be released until later on.

OS/2, the operating system that incorporates the Windows presentation manager, comes out in January - without the Windows presentation manager. That, apparently, comes later. Systems applications architecture, a consolidated strategy for future human-computer interaction, will be published 'later this year'.

It strikes me that IBM has decided to forget FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) for the moment and give the DP types something to build into their five year plans. The emphasis is clearly on connectivity, especially to IBM's own mainframes and midrange machines. It strikes me that small dealers and end users can do their own thing as far as IBM are concerned. It wants the high ground and it is determined not to lose out to another company, as it did when minicomputers took centre stage.

It has announced a pretty little low-priced PC for those tempted into the IBM net, but the real announcements are the three machines built around the Micro Channel Architecture.

According to one of the IBM publications, 'the Micro Channel Architecture... will become an IBM standard'. Not, you notice, a Personal System/2 standard. 'What can this mean?' I began to ask myself. Adapter cards can grab control of the bus, according to their built-in priority level. At last, the truth began to dawn.

Take a fibre optic cable. These belt data round at something like 100Mbits/sec.

They're quite compact and, really, three or four wouldn't take up that much more room than one. Stick a card on the end of a bunch of these cables and you could create bus-wide communications with whatever's at the other end. Stick a mainframe at the other end using the 'IBM standard' Micro Channel Architecture, and you provide you mainframe with high speed direct access to your distributed Personal System/2s.

Now, even the busiest Personal System/2 is going to have a bit of spare time and, with 80286 and 80386 processors, quite a lot of internal power. Add the multi-tasking capability which will be standard, and you have the potential for distributed parallel processing. The user won't even know.

As long as the machine is on, the mainframe is potentially able to grab control of the bus, give the machine a bit of work to do in the background and return to pick it up later when it's ready to assemble the results.

This Micro Channel bus network will exist independently of any conventional LAN and will be invisible to the users.

Only a totally irresponsible Manager would buy other manufacturers' systems if this is true.