The name of the game in the Unix market right now is distribution – or it ought to be if it’s going to merit all the money being spent on it. At Comdex, the archetypal venue for distributors, a brand new contingent of hardware vendors arrived – the low-end Sparc system builders. These companies are […]
The name of the game in the Unix market right now is distribution – or it ought to be if it’s going to merit all the money being spent on it. At Comdex, the archetypal venue for distributors, a brand new contingent of hardware vendors arrived – the low-end Sparc system builders. These companies are predominantly low-profile Far Eastern firms with a history of quiet OEM personal computer production and a determination to finally make a name for themselves in the vaunted American marketplace. None of them is dependent on Sparcs for this strategic breakthrough, but part of their formula is to wrap themselves in the Unix banner – partially perhaps out of a growing distaste for Intel Corp – and ride to glory if it all goes according to plan.
As Unix suppliers, however, the cloners appear at first blush to be a toothless lot. Maybe it’s their rush to market, but almost to a man – and by their own statements – none of them has a clue how to get the machines through the sales channels. Most of them have no pre-existing distribution in the US. Their initial Sparc products add no value over Sun Microsystems’ offerings other than a lower price. Support is non-existent. And their marketeers are back home, not in the US. Take Chicony Inc, for example, a $30m a year keyboards and portables maker: its Sparcette, the 1025, hasn’t passed Federal Communications Commission approval, yet it is expected to be in volume production in January, has its marketing department (what the company calls its futures department) back in Taiwan, and says it has no idea who its distributors will be or whether it will use OEM customers, resellers or both. DataTech Enterprises or, in its US-European guise, DTK Computer Corp, a $200m maker of motherboards, add-on cards and personal computer clones, also out of Taiwan, is another such company. It has two Sparc models: one using the 12.5 MIPS LSI 20MHz chip set and an Sbus; another using the 15.8 MIPS Cypress 25MHz chip and a VME bus. Otherwise the machines are pretty much the same. DTK is expecting volume sales on the first box in the late second or early third quarter; it has similar expectations in the third quarter for the VMEbus model. Like most of the others, volume production here seems to depend on demand, but there’s an increasing apprehension among observers that there may well turn out to be more suppliers than customers. DTK has some vague notions of offering itself as an OEM supplier and of approaching dealer channels, but where it thinks it will really score is by taking a piggy-back ride on Sun’s existing resellers. Unfortunately, this course may not exactly square with what Sun and its new US technical distributor Access Graphics have in mind. Tatung, of course, has a higher profile and at least managed to get a full-blown press release out on the fact that it’s entered the Sparc market, a hurdle most of the others failed to jump. It even has a published price of $7,000 for the product. But inside sources say Tatung has to resolve some internal politics before it gets its Sparcette off the ground. –
By Maureen O’ Gara
Tatung Co is represented by two subsidiaries in the US, each of them run by a son-in-law of the chairman. Tatung Science & Technology is bringing out the LSI-Opus Sparc, which it calls the TWS-5020, and is also responsible for developing the VMEbus-based unit the company previewed at Comdex last year. However the TWS-7000 or VARstation I (CI No 1,544), has yet to come to market and no date has been set for its launch. Tatung Science unfortunately has no real marketing capabilities. Its sister unit, Tatung Company of America, has – along with some other companies – a comprehension that there’s probably no money in selling Sparcettes through the average personal computer dealer channel rather than through the 2,000 resellers that it judges to be capable. Early on Tatung US reportedly had an LSI-Opus-based Sparc effort of its own afoot, but was told to back off after complaints were heard from the parent company in Taiwan. Currently it is involved in the TWS-5020′
s marketing. The huge Hyundai isn’t set up to bring its Sparcettes into the US either, and says the systems integrators and resellers needed to move the product are different from its current distribution base. It’s taking a more pragmatic stance, saying that it’s more likely to sell its SS1 and SS2 Sparcettes in its domestic Korean market.
Sampo too, as we reported last week (CI No 1,559), has no business plan and is just trawling the waters to see if it should start entering the market now or shelve the product for a while. Twinhead, however, is being more aggressive, even though its top Sparc marketing and research and development people are back in Taiwan. It hopes its hidden ace is the fact that its US sales force is American. Twinhead is a $120m company with 800 employees manufacturing personal computer clones. It reckons its first task is to take its TwinStation 1 to OEM customers, estimating it will do 10,000 units in the first 12 months after volume production begins in the second quarter, and doubling the year after that. It’s got a diskless colour entry-level machine at around $5,000 to $6,000 and one with a 200Mb drive for $6,000 to $7,000. Like its colleagues, it figures to move up-market fast, and is evaluating both LSI and Cypress 25MHz and 40MHz chips.
Northgate’s fiscal woes
Among the Americans, Northgate didn’t bother to turn up at Comdex with its OmiSparc workstation, apparently because it’s not ready yet. Northgate has proved impossible to reach by phone, so it’s hard to guage the impact Northgate’s current fiscal woes – a third-quarter $1.9m loss, and its resultant decision to change presidents and close down its six-month old direct sales force in favour of pure telemarketing – will have on its nascent Unix effort. However, industry analysts are sceptical of Northgate’s clout as a Unix vendor. The other vendor trying to crack a mass market for Unix is CompuAdd, which currently looks to have the strongest profile. Its SS-1 is offered in three configurations: the entry-level, priced at $6,000, is diskless with 8Mb internal disk and a 19 monochrome screen, the second at $8,700 comes with a 16 colour screen, a 210Mb SCSI drive and a 3.5 floppy disk, the third at $9,600 simply substitutes a 19 colour monitor. The $400m-a-year company – by its own account the largest direct seller of personal computer equipment and owner of some 89 retail stores will offer a 30-day money-back guarantee, free on-site service for a year and free technical support for the life of the product. Shipments of the boxes, which CompuAdd will make itself, start in the first quarter backed by an Advanced Systems Group it’s formed for sale and support.