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  1. Technology
March 17, 1988


By CBR Staff Writer

Hopes that having Olivetti as a 80% shareholder would open up a bright new commercial future across Europe for Acorn Computers Plc are unlikely to be fulfilled. There appears to be little likelihood of Olivetti taking an active part in marketing Archimedes, Acorn’s 32-bit RISC small business and home computer: according to Ian Laurence, Acorn’s new marketing director, the market places are too far apart. This information will do little to end speculation that Olivetti is keen to reduce its 80% interest in the company, the stake it ended up after rescuing Acorn for the second time in 1985. Laurence, who joined Acorn from BICC Data Networks last month, implies that Olivetti’s role in the company does not go beyond consultancy and market research. He did feel that because of Olivetti’s experience in the Third World, the Italian could help Acorn to expand into education in less-developed countries. Archimedes, which was voted small business/home computer of the year at the British Microcomputing Awards last September, was launched last June and is available in two series, the BBC Micro 300 and the Acorn 400 (CI No 704). The 300 comes in three models – a diskless 305 with 512Kb and 1Mb 3.5 floppy, a 1Mb 310 and the 310M complete with software emulation of MS-DOS. The 400 series consists of the 410 with 1Mb, 512Kb ROM, 1Mb floppy and four slots, plus the 440 which has 4Mb RAM and adds 20Mb Winchester. It was expected that the lower range would displace the BBC Master, however the company still shipped over 6,000 units of the old model last month. Archimedes is built around Acorn’s own RISC chip, which is fabricated for it by VLSI Technology in Santa Clara. The company sees the chip as a potential source of revenue from other computer manufacturers and has begun marketing it. It is difficult to say how successful it will be, but a number of evaluation systems have already been supplied. Acorn’s traditional market of the class-room still accounts for 60% of its business, but with with Archimedes the company is trying to forge out into other areas, especially the small business sector. Because the machine is designed primarily to handle images rather than data Laurence feels that it is suited to small craft and design businesses. As such the Archimedes should form an integral part of the small business, rather than be a computer system designed specifically for accounts – and he claims that over 200 packages have been produced for it in the past six months. Sales figures for the new product were not available as the company’s results are due out on March 31, but Laurence expressed satisfaction with progress to date. Acorn will be hoping that sales are strong enough to ensure an improvement on its mid-term figures which showed a net loss of UKP1.4m, on turnover fractionally down at UKP19.0. This nervousness is reflected in the company’s share price which was down 2p at the time of writing at 26p, for a 14-month low, against a high of 74 pence.

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