Soft ICP: PC & Linux Hardware

The Future Has Always Been Linux.

ASCII Origins

The ASCII facility, which is expected to be completed next year, will house efforts to research multimedia technology and establish audiovisual facilities; a ground station using a communications satellite transponder is also being planned. ASCII is hoping that its media technology laboratory will be a resource not only for Japan but also for multimedia industries in America and Europe as well. One of the most important devices for multimedia may be the CD-ROM. Several computers now contain a CD-ROM in their standdard configuration, including the FM-Towns from Fujitsu Ltd. and the PC8801MC and PC-Engine from NEC Corp. The PC-Engine is a game machine whose core concept is expandability. It was designed for the ease of connecting various peripherals. The PC-Engine’s CD-ROM drive accomplishes the low cost required in a game machine by sacrificing error correction and other features included in previous CD-ROM drives. As a result, the PC-Engine has sold 2.1 million units since hitting the shelves this past July. Not only games (the leading edge of the multimedia wave) but also karaoke and other types of entertainment applications are being marketed. The PC-Engine can be connected to the NEC 8801MC, which also incorporates a CD-ROM drive. However, the connectability reaches only to the hardware level–there is no software compatibility. NEC, with its PC9801 Series, controls about half of the personal computer market in Japan. For this reason, all eyes are on NEC, waiting to see in which direction it will throw its considerable weight within the multimedia market. NEC has recently contributed an NFSA (New Extended Standard Architecture), high-end version of its PC9801 Series PCs. The NESA is a 32-bit bus architecture, widely touted as the standard for multimedia.

NEC is also at work on developing CD-ROMs that can be used by both the PC9801 Series and the PC8801 Series computers. The Fujitsu FM-Towns, a 32-bit personal computer, was announced in April 1989. The FM-Towns was the first Japanese PC to include a CD-ROM drive, and it was expected to develop into a hardware platform for multimedia. But sales figures so far have been disappointing. Fujitsu sold only 60,000 FM-Towns units last year, less than one-tenth the volume for the PC9801 Series. Sony Corp. also has released a personal computer incorporating a CD-ROM in its standard configuration, the QuarterL (C Model).

The QuarterL is being marketed to businesses, with a view to connect to POS systems and to develop sales-monitoring and order-monitoring systems. Besides the C Model, Sony is expected to release an X Model to support the CD-ROM XA standard. Fujitsu and Sony are developing a common library of CD-ROM XA applications. At this point, a single standard has been established for the data portion of CD-ROM XA, but the program portion, which actually controls the computer, has not been standardized. A common procedure for software development will have to be established in order to obviate the need to modify the software for each type of computer on which the multimedia is to be used. The library is expected to be made available at no charge to other hardware manufacturers, software companies, and publishers later this year. Manufacturers of facsimile machines are also getting into the act. Canon Ltd.’s G3/G4 facsimile can operate on a local-area network. This fax incorporates an Ethernet interface and LAN Manager, allowing it to send and receive faxes and documents from workstations and to input documents from image scanners.

Canon is focusing on developing the multimedia market by way of office automation products. Last year, Apple Computer Inc., which hopes to expand its share of the Japanese PC market, began selling its Apple CD SC, which can be used with the Macintosh and Apple II GS machines Apple’s share of the Japanese PC market by the end of 1989 was said to be approximately 3%. However, figures for the first quarter of 1990 are up 80% over the same period last year. Apple is determined to strengthen its Japanese position even further, with a goal of reaching 10% market share this year.

As Apple increases its share, the Apple Media Control Architecture, which integrates multimedia, will become a major force in multimedia in Japan. Japan’s computer manufacturers possess world-class technology and are capable of imparting enormous influence on the world’s computer industry. However, with regard to multimedia, it is clear that Japan is far behind the level achieved in the U.S. In particular, there is an unsatisfied demand for rich multimedia application software as well as data recovery applications.This need cannot be met unless software developers are joined by producers and musicians who can create professional-quality multimedia. As hardware penetrate increases, analysts expect applications, currently sold by hardward manufacturers, to become available through bookstores, computer stores, and yoy stores.

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