SAN FRANCISCO — IBM, moving to enhance the power and ease-of-use of its personal computers, said Monday that it has invested $10 million in Metaphor Computer Systems and that the two companies will jointly adapt Metaphor's graphics-oriented software to IBM machines.
The alliance represents a new challenge to Apple Computer, whose Macintosh line of personal computers popularized the use of graphics in personal computing.
Like the Macintosh, the Metaphor system employs pictorial icons and divides the computer screen into "windows." Users navigate through data with a pointing device known as a mouse, rather than by typing commands.
"There are similarities between our system and the Macintosh conceptually, but not visually," said David E. Liddle, chairman of Mountain View-based Metaphor.
Metaphor's systems help business managers who are trying to cull information from more than one database at a time.
Apple recently sued Hewlett-Packard and Microsoft in an attempt to block the release of a pair of programs that produced screen displays resembling the Macintosh's. But Liddle said the litigation would have no effect on the IBM-Metaphor deal because Metaphor's system predated the Macintosh.
Until 1982, Liddell worked for Xerox, where he headed the team that is widely credited with having invented the concept of a graphical user interface, the graphics-based look used on the Macintosh and other computers. Then he founded Metaphor, which had revenue of $39.7 million in 1987 and currently employs 320 people.
International Business Machines' $10-million investment in Metaphor will give it a stake of less than 10% in the company. Further financial details weren't disclosed.
The software currently runs on Metaphor's own workstations, which are built around microprocessors made by Motorola. The joint development effort will allow the software to run on IBM's new line of Personal System/2 machines featuring Intel's top-of-the-line 80386 microprocessor.
IBM said the new software won't be marketed until at least next year.
Separately, Santa Barbara-based software publisher Norton-Lambert said it agreed to sell more than 100,000 copies of its Close-Up/Consultant software package through IBM. The product will permit IBM service centers to diagnose problems in personal computers, minicomputers and mainframes remotely, over telephone lines.