SAN FRANCISCO, JAN. 15 -- Apple Computer Inc. and Digital Equipment Corp. today announced a joint venture that will team Macintosh personal computers with VAX minicomputer systems.

The companies said specifics will be announced in August but added that their development efforts include allowing Apple's Macintosh models to access files stored on VAX, permitting both machines to use the same printers, and facilitating communications between the two systems.

The venture had been widely rumored in recent days.

Apple of Cupertino, Calif., and Maynard, Mass.-based DEC said about 36 percent of VAX sites use Macintosh computers, and customers are seeking ways to integrate and enhance the systems. The joint development effort is designed to address these customer needs, the companies said.

In announcing the joint venture, Apple President John Sculley said, "the combination represents one of the strongest alliances yet in the computer industry because it brings together the best technologies from two of the industry's best-known innovators."

Digital President Kenneth Olsen called the announcement "particularly exciting because it culminates years of discussion between John and I and fits perfectly into Digital's strategy."

"Let me emphasize," said Olsen, "we didn't buy shares in Apple and we didn't buy Apple out. And neither did Apple buy into Digital. This is simply a joint venture brought about by our respective customers' demands to integrate our two systems."

Sculley said the joint venture will help large companies and universities "who now will have new opportunities for powerful, highly integrated, multivendor office systems that are easily accessible and usable."

Sculley and Olsen said their respective companies will remain independent and pursue their own technologies and systems. A news conference is scheduled for August in Boston when technical specifications on the joint venture will be announced.

While acknowledging the computer industry's track record in alliances "has been poor," Sculley defended the agreement with Digital "as being fundamentally sound, especially on a technical level."

Olsen was asked if a possible merger between Digital and Apple was in the future.

"Nothing I can conceive of would be gained by that except pride," Olsen said. "I would hope we really wouldn't. There are things we do well and there are things Apple does well. We should leave those things alone."