IBM strategy seeks to scupper Eisa

Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 11/89 item 01 - scanned

It strikes me that IBM is up to all its old tricks again. After a couple of years glasnost with the press, it has seen its figures heading earthward. Has the edict gone out 'forget openness, bring back fear, uncertainty and doubt', or FUD as it's more generally known?

For a few years, IBM became very reasonable and pleasant and, dare I say it, believable. We, the press, attended function after function at which the company showed a human face and seemed willing to answer all our questions as frankly as they dared.

A few weeks ago, just eight days before Hewlett-Packard's Eisa launch, I had a call from IBM inviting me to hear about their plans for MCA.

I should have smelt a rat, because the press briefing was called for the very next day. What's more, it was held in a training room at IBM's South Bank headquarters. The messages, as I mentioned in my last column, were 'MCA will one day run at fantastic speeds and we've already installed a machine with a 486 processor board.'

Sadly, I missed the subsequent Hewlett-Packard announcement but, the following week, I went to Brussels to hear Olivetti's CP486 announcements. Then it became quite clear what IBM's game was. And it had worked. IBM had got press coverage on the strength of some impressive 'statements of direction'.

By contrast, Olivetti actually showed the new machines. The company had clearly planned its announcements a long time ahead of the event, because it had managed to book a prestigious conference centre, rooms at decent hotels and tables at central hotels and restaurants.

It even took over Grand Place for a spectacular chess match involving live players, including knights on horseback and people in little wooden castles.

Not to put too fine a point on it, Olivetti felt that the announcement of its Eisa systems was worth a bit of fanfare so it brought journalists and VARs from all over Europe to share the experience. It also brought in speakers from its strategic partners - Intel, Microsoft and Santa of direction

The products, the markets and the channels were all carefully explained. The whole shebang, in my mind at least, revealed the IBM briefing for what it was a rather tacky attempt to take the shine off the competition's Eisa announcements.

It succeeded briefly, but in doing so revealed the wolf that still lurks beneath the sheep's clothing.

Of course, once the event was under way, it was plain to see that Olivetti was not above putting the boot in on H-P and IBM. It implied that the date of the H-P announcement was made in the knowledge that Olivetti's was due nine days later.

As far as IBM is concerned, the chat around the dinner table suggested that Olivetti, which has made public commitments to both bus standards, does not like trailing IBM's MCA announcements by six to nine months. The official angle was that many more manufacturers will be providing Eisa machines than MCA.

Andy Groves, the president of Intel, started off his presentation with an appalling joke. The Santa Cruz earthquake had happened a couple of days earlier, yet he persisted in referring to a logarithmically-scaled graph as 'the Richter scale for engineering'. Although he scored low marks for sensitivity, he decided that we'd all like to learn about his company's plans for the microprocessor of the year 2000.

Sam Spadafora, the SCO man wheeled in to replace Larry Michels (he, quite rightly, felt his place was back in Santa Cruz, dealing with the aftermath of the earthquake), talked of the CP486 as a 'true turning point in computing' and that his company was 'proud to be part of it'. Wow! But there's no doubt that Olivetti now has an impressive range of computers, from the Amstrad-bashing PCS series right up to its recently announced LSX 30X5 superminis.

I can't help agreeing with Groves, who suggested that the 80486 'will demolish the boundaries between minicomputers, workstations and personal computers'. In Olivetti's case, the CP486 system does exactly that.