Pushing to enlarge its grip on personal computing in industry, International Business Machines Corp. yesterday introduced a line of high-powered personal computers for technical professionals and engineers.
The move is IBM's first serious attempt at providing desktop computer-aided design and engineering "work stations" -- a fast-growing segment of the computer market that has been pioneered by such companies as Apollo Computers, Daisy Systems, Sun Microsystems and other start-up companies. Dataquest, an industry research firm based in San Jose, forecasts a $2.5 billion market for engineering work stations by 1989.
The company's new RT Personal Computer work stations feature high-speed processors and a new operating system that permits up to eight users simultaneously to design anything from automobile fenders to large-scale integrated circuits on the computer's screens. System prices range from less than $12,000 to $20,000.
"It's a very aggressive approach," said Tim Bajarin, an industry analyst with Creative Strategies of San Jose. "The new [Advanced Interactive Executive 1] operating system makes the machine look like a [Apple] Macintosh," a machine that is very heavily oriented to graphics and design.
IBM is positioning the machine as an upscale personal computer for professionals who need to develop complex drawings, display data in graphics form, or process and analyze huge amounts of complex numerical information.
"They're positioning the product as they did their Personal Computer," which now dominates the market," said Salomon Bros. technology analyst Matt Meehan.
For example, said Meehan, IBM has given the RT an "open architecture," meaning that third-party hardware and software companies easily can provide enhancements and programs for the machine. The RT presents a "migration path" that users of IBM's line of personal computers can trade up to, Bajarin and Meehan asserted.
"It's a good start for IBM, but they still have a long way to go in this market," said David Burdick, a Dataquest computer-design industry analyst. "In terms of price/performance, Sun or Apollo would still exceed the IBM machine. If you take off the IBM logo, it's really not a spellbinding machine."
For example, Burdick said that IBM's announcement did not address how these work stations could be linked in a network.
However, he agreed that IBM's marketing muscle will give its new work station an immediate niche in the market.