Groupe Bull’s main message at its annual forum this year was that it intends to be one of the big five computer companies by 1995. The fact that Bull’89 was held in Rome was emphasised again and again to suggest that the various corporate and national identities that make up the jigsaw puzzle that is Groupe Bull were now working together to make up one happy corporate picture. Hitherto, these annual fora have been held at Paris, intimating the central role that Bull SA has within the Group. Somewhat ironically, the event was held this year in the Palazzo dei Congressi, a building inspired by Mussolini’s ill-fated dreams of internationalism. Anyhow, as George McNeil, the UK managing director put it, Bull really is one company now and is trying to behave like one, despite its geographical differences which are continually highlighted by the two main companies that make up the Group: Bull SA, the French lynchpin (92% owned by the French government) and covering most of continental Europe and much of Africa, and Bull HN, which more or less accounts for the Rest of the World except for Japan, where the third part of the triumvirate, something of a sleeping partner at present, holds sway. Clearly, however, there are no plans to merge these two organisations into one big multinational, for the key team phrases were integration and complementary activities that respect the differences between nationalities. Both McNeil and Jacques Stern, chairman of Bull HN, argued that internationalism meant compatible hardware, but that vertical markets and their consequent software solutions would retain national differences. Roland Pampel, chief executive officer of Bull HN, elaborated the international theme saying that Bull SA has a full grip on the European computer industry, while Bull HN, via the Honeywell connection, has access to US research and development, and 15% shareholder NEC gives a technological input from Japan. Consequently, Bull is arguably, structurally ready for the Single European Market, as it stands astride the Atlantic. The worldwide series of product announcements given at the beginning of the month (CI No 1,191) were trumpeted as an example of this newly found globull cooperation (for those wincing, terribull tags like that are the theme of the current advertising campaign). These announcements revealed: eight new models in the DPS 7000 range, the availability of Oracle under GCOS 8 for the DPS 8000, DPS 90 and DPS 9000 models, a package to link micros and mainframes, the DPS 6 Plus minicomputer office systems and communications packages, based on Open Systems network architecture, and the Bull Micral 600 micro, running under MS-DOS or Unix with 25MHz 80386 Intel processor. Last, but by no means least, Bull HN and Bull SA jointly announced the OSI/DSA offering giving both sets of clients electronic mail, distributed relational databases, transactional processing and network management. Open systems, of course, fit in beautifully with the new corporate image being courted by Bull, since, under its philosophy, common hardware gives the company the ability to bring in its open market strategy in the Single European Market, whereby it focuses on the provision of software for niche markets. At present, however, Bull produces two incompatible Unix operating systems: Bull SA has the DPX 2000, while Bull HN has the XPS 100. According to McNeil, an anouncement will be made later this year heralding the arrival of an Open Software Foundation-compliant Open System using the OSF Motif user interface, which it is claimed will work with any kernel. All applications running on either of Bull’s native versions of Unix will then be ported to the new system. McNeil said that he then believed the DPX 2000 and the XPS 100 would be phased out. Pampel, however, denied that this would happen, saying that native versions of Unix would still be sold. Ultimately, Bull hopes to have Unix integrated with the GCOS ranges, as well as with its native Unix offerings. Pampel said that while Unix on GCOS 8 and GCOS 7 was as yet unannounced, a Un
ix co-processor for the DPS 7000 was probably coming out. But, he declined to comment on the amount of turnover that Unix systems would generate for Bull in five years’ time, and would not even go so far as to say that it be more than the 10% that it derives from Open Systems at the moment. Unix International Meanwhile, NEC (as the Japanese part of this international team) is still committed to AT&T’s Unix International and has no part to play in Bull’s Unix strategy. Another area where Bull’s international integration is encountering problems is is in the supercomputer arena. For, according to Pampel, Bull is having difficulty getting in on the NEC supercomputer, the SX3, for fear of becoming entangled in the US-Japanese trade controversy over Cray machines. Still, Rome of all locations is no stranger to the problems of Empire-building, and Bull’89 was billed as a forum multinational – companies. Make of that what you will.