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IBM, Apple and Motorola in PC Accord : Technology: The alliance on hardware design is intended to break the dominance of Intel and Microsoft.


SAN FRANCISCO — Three years after they decided to work together on a new type of computer chip, IBM, Apple Computer and Motorola plan to announce on Monday a much-anticipated agreement on a standard design for personal computers that use those chips.

Analysts say it is too soon to tell whether the new PC "platform," due in 1996 at the earliest, will be compelling enough to do more than nibble at the 85% market share held by machines using chips from Intel Corp. and software from Microsoft Corp.

But they agree that the initiative gives the industry its best shot yet at breaking what is viewed as an Intel-Microsoft stranglehold. The new machines will be based on the PowerPC chip, the powerful microprocessor that was developed by the three partners and is used in the latest Apple Macintosh computers.

"This creates for the first time a serious second standard around a processor architecture other than Intel's," said Andrew Gore, executive editor for news at MacWeek, a trade publication that reports on the Macintosh market.

The machines would be able to run a variety of computer operating systems from Apple, IBM, Novell, Sun and others. They would thus, in theory, give customers not only more raw computer power, but also greater flexibility and a broad array of software applications.

Canon Corp., Toshiba Corp. and other smaller companies are expected to announce Monday that they will build computers based on the new standard.

As they finally put aside their differences, IBM and Apple will certainly be presenting a more unified front against the Intel-Microsoft juggernaut. International Business Machines Corp. and Apple Computer Inc. have been allied with Motorola Inc. in developing the PowerPC chips, but until now machines based on those chips--including the well-received PowerMacintosh systems--have shared few important design features.

IBM will continue to make Intel-based machines even after the rollout of the new machines to be designed with Apple. The agreement on a standard was reached after months of haggling over technical and financial details and what direction the venture should take.

Neither Apple, based in Cupertino, Calif., nor IBM would comment officially on the announcement planned for Monday in New York. Most observers said that one component key to Apple's survival will be missing: a deal with another party for licensing Apple's Macintosh operating system.

The success of the new hardware design will ultimately depend on the quality of the software operating systems and applications that can be run on the machines. Analysts agree the Macintosh operating system needs to build a broader customer base if it is to attract quality applications.

Apple Chief Executive Michael Spindler has said that Apple would announce licensing pacts for the "Mac OS" before year's end, and some observers speculated that Apple must be planning to announce such a deal closer to Comdex, a huge industry trade show opening Nov. 13 in Las Vegas.

In the meantime, IBM is struggling to complete a version of its OS/2 operating system to run on the new PowerPC-based machines, which will also run sophisticated corporate computing operating systems such as Netware, Solaris, Windows NT and, eventually, Taligent.

Though long overdue in many analysts' estimation, the timing of the common IBM-Apple platform's debut could yet prove lucky, some said. Both Intel and Microsoft are going through transitions as they develop next-generation products and are displaying "some vulnerability," said Pieter Hartsook, publisher of the Hartsook Letter, an Alameda, Calif.-based Macintosh market research service.

The PowerPC designs promise to be extremely competitive in terms of performance for the price, but Apple, in particular, must hustle if it hopes to bolster its position.

"Time is running out," said Kimball Brown, an analyst with Dataquest Inc., a market research firm in San Jose.

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