The new line of computer products structured around the high performance 68020-compatible Edge Computer processor due to be announced by Olivetti in London on Thursday is widely seen as the key to the Italian company’s fortunes over the next five years or so. The machines, and the new strategy that goes with them, represent in part an admission that the company’s first attempt at an integrated product line has run into trouble. That was Linea Uno, an ambitious and intelligent attempt to create order out of the chaotic mishmash of products inherited by Carlo de Benedetti when he took control of the company in the late 1970s. Linea Uno however proved less than overwhelmingly successful for a reason Olivetti could not have foreseen at the time – the commercial failure of the Zilog Z8000 microprocessor. Linea Uno was conceived as an integrated line from the M20 personal computer up to multi-processor M50 and M60 machines – but the strategy was hurt at the bottome by the IBM Personal becoming the de facto standard, and at the higher end by Zilog’s commercial failure with the 16-bit Z8000, which meant that the 32-bit Z80000 was not only very late but was never going to be a viable competitor for the 68020 and 80386. By going Motorola compatible, Olivetti is moving into the main stream this time around, and will be offering Unix as a unifying factor as well as supporting its own MOS operating system transferred from the Linea Uno Z8000 machines, with AT&T’s 3B machines filling in below. Olivetti has already effectively given up on 1987 – the new generation of personal computers to compete with IBM’s PS/2 have been slow to take off but have caused sales of the existing line to tail off. But, more importantly, having taken 180,000 of Olivetti’s micros last year, AT&T still has warehouses full of the things, and will be taking only 40,000 this year. However there is optimism that after a substantially down 1987, things will quickly turn up again in 1988: AT&T should start ordering more personal computers again, and profits are promised at the costly Triumph-Adler acquisition.
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