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  1. Technology
May 15, 1988


By CBR Staff Writer

Japanese win most of the new technology plaudits with innovative lap-top features With the industry’s engineering schedule geared towards the real Comdex in Las Vegas, Comdex/Spring has never been a treasure trove of sexy new product announcements, writes Maureen O’Gara from Atlanta. Hitachi, however, attempted to buck the trend by showing off the first-ever-seen colour portable. The presentation was very low key because it’s not yet a saleable product and apparently what we were looking at was the company’s only existing prototype. Technological development has a way to go yet since they’ve only been able to achieve a 6.3 screen so far and know they have to get closer to the expected 11 diagonal before they can put it on the market. For a first go-round, however, it looked swell. A little sign on the box called it a thin film transistor LCD with 384K pixels getting a resolution of 640 by 600 dots per inch. The Hitachi salesman accompanying the widget wasn’t able to provide much more in the way of technological insight even with his halting English except to add that it was capable of eight colours with Colour Graphics Adaptor. Hitachi engineers chose to box their breakthrough in an 80286 laptop called the B16LX that’s sold today only in Japan but with a plasma screen. The thing was running a Japanese version of MS-DOS which the Hitachi guy insisted was not IBM-compatible and therefore would not be able to run any American programs. The occasion for this little bit of hoopla was Hitachi’s launch into the US market with a line of otherwise tacky looking 512Kb 80C88-based HL320 portables which come as either a twin 3.5 floppy unit or with one 3.5 floppy and a 20Mb hard drive, back lit LCD and detachable keyboard. The high-end model is priced at $3,000. Interestingly enough NEC is telling people they’ll have a colour laptop on the US market in 18 months. Wonder if they’ll get the technology from Hitachi. Mitsubishi Electronics is taking its first stab at the American market with a range of 286 portables, the mp286L, that feature a page-white display based on neutral twisted nematic technology which is achieved using four layers of liquid crystal diodes. Hence they can tout the legibility of their screens. They get 640 by 400 dots per inch and six shades of grey in CGA, with EGA expected in the fourth quarter. The 11 diagonal screen shows black characters on a white background, switchable to white on black. Mitsubishi is one of the few companies with 12 function keys on their portable and they’re pricing themselves below Toshiba with a 20Mb version going for $4,000 versus a Toshiba 3100/20 at $4,700 list or a Toshiba 3200 with its full-sized keyboard at $5,000. Also attracting attention from Mitsubishi was a new MH 216 hand held scanner that can scan pages up to 8.5 wide either by hand or by employing an optional automatic paper feeder, and the thing operates at 10 seconds per page at a resolution of 200 dots per inch. The thing comes with a standard interface board for MS-DOS micros, and the thing costs $995, plus another $260 for the paper feeder. Ricoh, which has so far limited its American marketing to peripherals, is trying to think of a way to bring in its 80286 and 80386 boxes from Japan but first it’s got to grapple with issues like how to distinguish it from everybody else’s and what market share are they willing to settle for. They figure they’ll know by the fourth quarter. Amstrad did not make the move expected in some quarters in the UK this Comdex and did not trot out a Microchannel clone. Acer didn’t have theirs there either, although the PS/2 Model 30 clone was spotted somewhere.

Frying tonite: NetLine uses mains wiring for local area networking The idea of going to bed with an electric fire has always seemed a rather crazy thing to do, even if the thing is neatly wrapped up in insulation and cosily sold as an electric blanket, and the idea of allowing one’s data to get mixed up with mains voltages that may end up only a flimsy insulator away from the fragile RS232 port on one’s precious computer gen

erates a similar sense of unease. Nevertheless, all the signs are that it is going to happen, and NetLine Inc, a Provo, Utah company, showed up at Comdex bearing a networking system that is designed to link all your micros and peripherals together via the existing mains power lines that are already conveniently in place around any building. The Link system does indeed transfer data via the serial port of the attached computer or peripheral, at rates up to 19.2Kbps, and all you have to do to Link into the network is to plug the network device into the nearest mains socket. And how much does it cost to run the risk of frying your computer? (Clearly NetLine wouldn’t be selling the thing if it wasn’t quite safe, but that’s what the airline tells you as you are boarding the fatal flight) – $495 for an external adaptor box for attaching peripherals or laptops to the network, $395 for an add-on board for MS-DOS micros.

And the other gossip… The prize for the largest booth at Comdex probably ought to go to IBM which in concert with Microsoft (though we doubt Bill Gates picked up much of the bill) was touting OS/2. They assembled some 70 software houses running more than 70 packages under OS/2. Running may be too strong a word since the vast percentage of what was being demo’d was vapourware with availability dates stretching into the second quarter of next year and more realistically probably beyond. IBM printed up a catalogue describing all this software with each page dedicated to a single program. Wags were noting that IBM spared no expense using real heavy paper and big type to make the exercise feel more substantive. IBM was also offering MS-DOS 3.X users a $125 price cut to trade in their old software for OS/2 standard edition, making the price only $200. AT&T’s Olivetti liasion guy was overheard at AT&T’s Comdex party as saying that the companies would go their own ways in the future. Since AT&T is a little thin on the ground as far as strategic positioning goes, there’s no reason to believe as of today they know whether they are going to end their relation with Olivetti for good and all or simply let it malinger. Apparently they are a bit miffed Olivetti would go to a non-AT&T source Edge Computer Corp – for Unix boxes for the Linea Duo.

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