'Mix-match' options for computers on riseCompatibility...

TECHNOLOGY & COMMUNICATION

November 15, 1993|By Steve Auerweck | Steve Auerweck,Staff Writer

'Mix-match' options for computers on rise

Compatibility makes strange bedfellows.

Three news items last week emphasized just how strongly consumers are demanding the ability to "mix and match" computer technologies:

* Apple Computer Inc. will bring out a new line of Macintoshes containing both the standard Mac microprocessor from Motorola Inc. as well as an Intel Corp. 486 chip that will let the machine run DOS and Windows software. Apple's new chief, Michael

Spindler, is expected to announce the machine today at the Comdex trade show in Las Vegas.

* IBM unveiled OS/2 for Windows, an add-on that gives machines running Microsoft Corp.'s Windows 3.1 features such as improved multitasking and software-only video and other multimedia abilities. It also lets them run software written for OS/2. The introductory price is $49 ($39 on CD-ROM).

IBM obviously figures that half a loaf is better than none, considering the enormous number of users who have no plan to give up their Windows. And this helps IBM escape the bind created by the expiration of its license deal with Microsoft for the Windows code.

* Microsoft said its Windows NT operating system will run on the PowerPC microprocessor, which was developed by IBM, Apple and Motorola. IBM now sells the only PowerPC-based machines on the market, but Apple's versions should appear early next year.

Fantastic voyages due in living rooms

You peer through the goggles, seeing a town far below. Then, with a quick twist of the wrist, you're diving toward Main Street, swooping and banking through the sleepy village. It's like a dream of flying, but with complete control.

Stepping back from the viewer in the local office of Silicon Graphics Inc. is disorienting. So that's what they mean by "virtual reality." It's a stunning experience. But equally astonishing is the idea that fantastic voyages formerly reserved for high-tech researchers will soon be possible in the local mall, or even your living room.

"The hype is over and the real applications are coming in the very immediate future," says Scott Redmond, president of RPI Advanced Technology Group in San Francisco.

A bevy of companies -- Silicon Graphics among them -- are designing home terminals for the information highway, but RPI is likely to be at the forefront when it comes to bringing virtual reality gaming, education, conferencing and the like into the home.

The company has been building arcade games for 20 years; last week it showed the industry its CyberPod, a 3-D system that can be used as the core of a variety of games.

More importantly, it's been creating a variety of pieces -- stereo goggles, dual-image computer display adapters, and a consumer-oriented simulation network -- that will let couch potatoes fly.

Mr. Redmond said his company, which consists of a core of 10 employees working with 150 contract developers, is in talks on licensing of the ImagiNET technology with most of the large telecommunications companies that are planning high-capacity data pipes into the home.

"The way to make it make sense to the volume user just kind of 'clicked in' in the boardrooms recently," he said. "Interactive, as opposed to 'pump it at you,' hadn't been in the business plan."

But it became apparent that we were seeing "a sociological and industrial revolution," he said.

RPI's home gear relies on its patented Head Mounted Sensory Interface, which provides high-resolution stereo video and sound, linked to the position of the wearer's head.

For starters, ImagiNET lets owners of moderately powerful PCs call in and romp through "synthetic digital worlds" with others around the world. In the future, Mr. Redmond sees it as a "one-stop source" -- the gateway to theme parks, video on demand, shopping, training and other information-based activities.

Mr. Redmond said that 150 game titles are in development for the RPI system, and expects that 300 will available before the ZTC end of 1994.

Emphasis on graphics spurs sales in Japan

The shift away from DOS to the graphic environment of Windows and the Macintosh has accompanied a sales bonanza in Japan for U.S. software publishers.

The Washington-based Software Publishers Association said on Friday that those sales totaled $135.3 million in the first half of the year, up 48 percent from the first half of 1992. The climb came on an 84 percent increase in unit sales.

"Japan hasn't had as much of an economic turndown as we've seen in some other countries," said association research director David Tremblay. Also, he said, "U.S. hardware manufacturers have gone into the Japanese market very aggressively in the last year," particularly Apple, Compaq Computer Corp. and Dell Computer Corp.

Sales of DOS-based programs slid by 21 percent, dropping the category into second place behind Windows software, which rocketed 260 percent. Gains for Mac software were almost as strong, at 242 percent.

Surprisingly, Mr. Tremblay said that most of that software is running in English. However, he expected "some acceleration as a result of Japanese-language Windows being shipped" earlier this year.

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