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AST to Sell Native-Language Software in Japan : Computers: The Irvine company will ship its PCvisions to Japan, becoming one of two U.S. firms to market such machines in that nation.


IRVINE — AST Research Inc. said Tuesday that it will begin marketing in Japan a personal computer based on a common Japanese-language software standard promoted by International Business Machines Corp.

Several U.S. suppliers of IBM-compataible computers are expected to introduce machines designed especially for sale in Japan. AST, based in Irvine, could become the first company besides IBM to do so when it starts shipping next month.

AST's PCvision machine will be based on a Japanese-language operating system that IBM began licensing to other computer makers in December, 1990. An operating system is the software program that tells the computer what functions to perform.

"Japan is the second-largest PC marketplace in the world, and AST plans to enhance and expand its product offerings in that country," said Tom Yuen, the firm's co-chairman and chief operating officer.

AST based its machine on DOSV, IBM's Japanese-language version of the widely used MS-DOS operating system.

IBM, which began selling PCs in Japan in 1983, decided to license its software to other companies in an effort to lessen confusion in the Japanese market. It formed a consortium of companies to help push the DOSV standard.

In the U.S. market, two companies--IBM and Apple Computer--have set the de facto standards for PC design. While NEC Corp. has emerged as a dominant player in Japan, its software programs can't be used with PCs made by other companies.

The lack of a common standard has confused Japanese customers and hurt sales, IBM spokesman Mac Jeffery said.

So far, 11 Japanese computer companies have joined the IBM group: Canon Inc., Fujitsu Ltd., Hitachi Ltd., Matsushita Electric Corp., Mitsubishi Electric Corp., Oki Electric Industry Co. Ltd., Ricoh Co. Ltd., Sanyo Electric Co., Sharp Corp., Sony Corp. and Toshiba Corp.

Compaq Computer Corp. has said it also plans to launch a line of PCs in Japan. The Houston-based PC maker has not stated whether it plans to join the IBM group.

"NEC is dominant, but they have not saturated the Japanese corporate world," said Michael Morand, AST's vice president of marketing. "We think there is opportunity there because many of the companies are global in thinking."

The new PC represents AST's second effort to crack the Japanese market. In April, 1990, the company announced that it would ship a computer that was compatible with IBM's English-language software and NEC's Japanese-language software.

But that strategy foundered when Sharp Corp. withdrew as the main distributor for the AST machines. AST has found several small distributors, but Morand acknowledges that sales of the machine are weak.

AST will build the PCvision computers in Fountain Valley. They will be sold in Japan under the AST name.

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