"The Internet is the future. It's where computer companies will compete."
Espen Ramsbacher, IBM general director
Indeed it is. "Big Blue" is working 24 hours a day to develop the new Java software which will allow large networks of computers to work on the Internet interchangeably in a computer language so advanced that it can handle any software applications or work on any hardware. In short, Java will simplify computer language to such a point that it will enable companies to buy software without all the other accessories.
"Java holds the promise of applications that can be written once and run in any operating environment," said Steve Mills, general manager of IBM's software solutions division in Seattle.
Ramsbacher said IBM programmers are working around the clock at many of IBM's offices worldwide. Giving an example, Ramsbacher said that researchers in IBM's branch office in China send their results via the Internet at the end of their day to their colleagues at the company's office in North America, who send the results of their day's work on the Internet to another team in another bureau and so on until eventually reaching the researchers in China to start the research cycle again.
Java software technology is a year away, according to Mills, who added that its pricetag has yet to be determined.
Off the computer screen
Closer to coming off the drawing board - or rather off the computer screen - and into use for businesses is the Network Computer Station. A box hooked up to a PC will be further linked to the Internet and will allow users to access any operating system, such as Windows 95 or IBM's standard software OS/2, without having to house that system on the hard drive. What that gives to companies that need to network many computers the flexibility of not having to equip each station with software packages but allowing all of them to draw from one source. According to Ramsbacher, companies will be able to acquire software at 10 percent the cost it is now.
"The Network Computer Station is for enterprises who need to share applications in more than one place, like banks, industrial companies, or graphic studios," Ramsbacher said.
At a cost of approximately 30,000 Sk, IBM is concentrating on selling this new technology to the upper-tier of Slovak companies; in fact, 87 percent of IBM's business in 1996 came from large enterprises like the Slovak commercial bank Všeobecná Úverová Banka (VÚB) and the dam construction company Hydrostav. IBM held a 19 percent market share in Slovakia in 1996 - 30 percent of it coming through direct sales, and the other 70 percent through its distribution partners.
Ramsbacher is betting that Slovakia will maintain its strong GDP growth (averaging 5 percent the last three years) while increasing workers' productivity. "In three years the goal is to have a 25 percent market share," he said.
Compared to other large computer companies like Hewlett Packard or Digital, and the many tiny outlets that sell PCs, IBM's hardware prices are a cut higher. However, Ramsbacher believes that this is a false perception based on reports five to seven years ago saying that IBM PCs could only use IBM components, causing prices to go up.
"I believe that IBM has listened to the market well," Ramsbacher said. "IBM has changed, adapted. We used to be an arrogant company. Now we listen." Turning to a flip chart next to his desk and pointing at a page of figures showing IBM as the largest vendor in Slovakia, Ramsbacher seemed to indicate that the listening has paid off. Always the professor.
10. Apr 1997 at 0:00 | Daniel J. Stoll