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April 21, 1992


By CBR Staff Writer

IBM tries to get in first and stymie Microsoft with preview of ThinkPad pen micro…

IBM Corp has seen so many innovations pass it by and leave it on the starting grid as small, unfancied rivals cleaned up the market that it is determined that with pen computing, it is going to be right in the forefront – and it hopes to spoil Microsoft Corp’s fun this time around by adopting Go Corp’s PenPoint operating system for Intel Corp iAPX-86-based machines rather than Microsoft’s Pen Windows, thereby hoping to turn the untried contender into the industry standard for pen computing. Of course as usual with IBM, it doesn’t believe it will be able to get anywhere near meeting early demand, but rather than wait to announce a product until it has tens of thousands built for stock – its usual practice – it has pre-announced its machine and will initially market it on a special bid basis, which means that it is not giving any indication of how much it expects people to pay for the thing. Harking back to a company watchword from the glory days, it is calling its entry into the undeveloped market the ThinkPad and promises that it will be generally available in the fourth quarter this year. In the meantime, big companies that want lots of them, and software developers wanting to develop applications, can enter special bids on machines for ships from July.

…uses 80386SX, integrated circuit card storage, separate stylus…

The ThinkPad, more prosaically called the 2521, uses a 20MHz 80386SX processor – nothing so fancy as IBM’s own 386SLC, measures 12.25 by 9.19 by 1.375 and weighs a soupcon over 6 lbs. It is offered in versions with 4Mb and 8Mb memory, which are otherwise identical. It comes in a Magnesium case, has serial and parallel ports, a floppy port for an external 1.44Mb or 2.88Mb drive, an external keyboard port, 10 Supertwisted Nematic transflective, cold fluorescent black-on-white back-lit liquid crystal display with VGA resolution, two 10Mb integrated circuit storage cards, – both are essential for operation and spare cards will be available, but there is no word on whether they meet the PCMCIA standard. The Nickel Cadmium battery pack runs three hours between charges, there is an integrated data and facsimile modem and untethered stylus – described as very like a ballpoint pen – and very easy to lose, so spare ones will be available. The PenPoint operating system is preloaded, as is the PenStation communications program licensed from Sitka Corp, which supports transfer of data between the ThinkPad and PS/2s. The ThinkPad also comes standard with a corrective service facility for upgrading the operating system and application software as enhancements are available – via floppy disk, by attaching to a PS/2, or remotely through telecommunication links. Attachment to a PS/2 requires a server program, which is supplied, and MS-DOS 3.3 up – or OS/2 running in MS-DOS emulation mode. In the future there will be models of the ThinkPad that also run OS/2. The machine incorporates IBM’s handwriting recognition technology, but users, who write directly on the screen, need to confine themselves to printed characters. The machine also captures images, sketches and drawings. The 2521 ThinkPad physical characteristics are based on a clipboard design, IBM says, being designed to to be carried by mobile workers in one hand while doing their work. The software uses a notebook organisation with users able to turn pages by interactions between the pen and the display. A keyboard is available as an option, but software support for the keyboard is limited and it is expected that user applications will have to be created if extensive keyboard data input is required. The PenPoint operating system will recognise 101/102 character scan codes. There are no internal slots for input-output adaptors.

…and rallies allies with launch of a Pen Developer Assistance Programme

IBM accompanied its ThinkPad launch with the formation of the IBM Pen Developer Assistance Programme, designed to help customers and independent software vendors as they begi

n developing industry-specific and general purpose pen-based applications. The aim is to provide guidance and support to customer accounts interested in developing applications tailored to the needs of their field force or mobile workers, those workers who spend much of the time standing, moving around, meeting face-to-face with clients. IBM will also provide support to developers looking to create pen computing applications that will run on future IBM pen-based computers. The programme will include access to current hardware technical information; technical question and answer support; access to IBM pen-based products at various test centres; selective participation in business shows; discounts on technical education offerings, and other support activities. IBM is participating with some customers and software vendors worldwide on application development and testing and is also is working with a number of leading edge application developers to provide a wide range of applications from which customers can choose. And some application developers will be chosen to participate in IBM’s current Software Solution co-operative marketing programme under which IBM provides marketing assistance to the vendor for applications that it likes.

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Photonics wants to plug PenPoint computers into its infra-red network

For those that want wireless communications on their PenPoint computer, Campbell, California-based Photonics Corp, the company that has a deal with Ing C Olicetti & Co SpA’s Triumph-Adler arm, has announced a version of its Infra-red Transceiver to provide wireless communications for computers running PenPoint. The system is based on diffuse infra-red transmission so that computers and other devices implementing the technology need not be aimed because the light is reflected from ceilings, walls and floors, making it difficult to block. It sends data at speeds of up to 1Mbps using standard local area network protocols, and is designed for battery-operated environments. Photonics says it is developing a family of OEM and end-user mobile computing products including an add-n board and external tethered transceiver for MS-DOS machines, an external adaptor for Macintoshes, a parallel port adaptor for notebook computers, access points which provide access to existing wired networks and repeaters that extend transceiver operating range.

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