Many corporate buyers, companies that sell computers and computer industry consultants say they welcome the new machine that IBM and Apple Computer Inc. are planning to make together, which will be officially announced today. Some broad details of the plan leaked out last week.
Intended to be a computing chameleon, the jointly developed computer will be able to run several operating systems, including IBM's OS/2, Apple's Mac OS, and Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris, taking on the appearance and functions of each, as well as the most commonly used operating system, DOS, and its friendlier helper, Windows.
Because no one expects the new machine in less than a year, and 18 to 24 months is regarded as a more likely timetable, the immediate impact of the Apple-IBM announcement on corporate purchasing decisions will be minimal.
With personal computers based on Intel Corp.'s microprocessors and Microsoft Corp.'s operating system already accounting for 85 percent of the market, many buyers will consider the new machine only if its performance is far higher and its price far lower than rivals.
Yet in the short term, the project could shore up purchases of Apple's Power Macintosh, which uses the Power PC chip jointly developed by Apple, IBM and Motorola Inc.
The Power Mac outperforms current Intel-based PC's, but can run Windows only under emulation, a technology that allows it to pretend that it has an Intel chip but produces lesser performance.
"This helps the Mac stay a supportable machine in the corporate arena because it provides a migration path," said Louis Gasparini, vice president for desktop information systems at Wells Fargo & Co. "It may hurt some of the Intel high-end stuff in the next six months, because if you're looking for a power machine, you're more likely to consider the Mac."
Some experts caution that the shared machine could fall flat if Apple does not agree to license the Macintosh operating system, so that machines manufactured by IBM can in effect be Mac clones, and if it does not deliver adequate performance when used as a Windows-capable machine. A late delivery could also blunt the impact, these people said.
Good target customers for IBM and Apple are those companies currently running a hodgepodge of different machines and operating systems, which is fairly common.
The Intel-Microsoft machines may be the mainstay, but many companies rely on Macintoshes in graphics and publishing departments and use Sun work stations for staff engineers. A common machine that could satisfy all those parties would reduce confusion and technical support costs.