Al Alcala, president of Media Systems Technology Inc., is confident his company can duplicate Xerox's success--but not on paper.
Gunning straight for the so-called "office of the future," the Irvine, Calif.-based company makes copiers for what it thinks will be the "paper of the future"--computer floppy discs.
In offices where personal computers are proliferating, the floppy disc--the thin, flexible computer memory device that resembles a 45 rpm record--is fast becoming as commonplace as the file cabinet. In fact, a couple of floppy discs can store as much information as what's stuffed in the typical file drawer.
Alcala, who expects Media Systems' revenues to exceed $12 million this year, thinks that companies relying on personal computers to manipulate corporate data will come to rely on disc copiers much in the way that companies shuffling paper rely on the office copier.
The five year-old company, which was the first to market a fast disc duplicator, recently came out with a desk-top model targeted at large corporations which copy programs and data for their internal personal computer users. TransAmerica Corp., a financial services company, uses the copier to keep everyone abreast of the latest moves in the market. "Every time the interest rate changes," says Alcala, "They have to update the floppies."
While many companies use inhouse networks to distribute data to personal computers, Alcala believes that the economics of data disc publishing will drive companies to disc copier technology.
Media Systems' office copier can be had for $15,000, Alcala says, but the price is expected to drop as Media Systems goes into volume production and competitors enter the market.
Alcala also expects those economies to spawn chains of disc copy shops, the computer counterpart to the various print copy shops that dot downtown centers. That does raise the spectre of illegal copying of copyrighted discs such as VisiCalc and WordStar, and Alcala concedes, "We can't police it but we'll do everything we can to discourage it."
On the other hand, disc duplication could be a software entrepreneur's dream, according to Phil Micciche, president of Xemag, a Media Systems competitor. "For people with an interesting program who don't want to get involved in manufacturing," boasts Micciche, "we're ideal."
The idea is that an individual with a salable program would have Xemag serve as the printing press. "We'd charge $1.60 a disc for a run of 5,000 discs," says Micciche. As an incentive, Xemag will imbue those copies with special "security algorithms," or codes, to prevent them from being recopied illegally by software pirates.
According to Micciche, everyone from video games designers to business programmers have been intrigued by the idea of "self-publishing" their software through Xemag. In fact, says Micciche, Xemag was even thinking of taking out advertisements in trade magazines encouraging people to do just that.
Larger companies, such as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing, are exploring disc duplication and many computer companies rely on Xemag and Media Systems to mass produce their offerings.
Xerox, the first word in copier technology, is conspicuous by its absence. "It's a nice idea," says a corporate spokesman, "but we're not doing anything like that. It's not our business."