IBM hopes technology will distinguish PCs

IBM debuted its lineup of new notebooks and PCs Tuesday, highlighting the wireless functionality and security features of its four new ThinkPad laptops and three new NetVista desktops. Targeting its new PCs at corporate users, IBM also emphasized the cost savings its PCs and technologies can generate.

With falling prices and profit margins squeezing PC makers, IBM is focusing not on rock-bottom pricing but on stability and unique technologies, according to executives. IBM's new offerings include software for reducing the number of PC images needed for a network of enterprise computers, strengthened security tools for protecting data, and a pair of applications for troubleshooting and recovering from software and hardware problems.

IBM bailed out of the retail PC sector 18 months ago, IBM Personal Computing General Manager Jon Judge said during a conference call with press and analysts. Instead of vying for overall market share, IBM hopes to win customers in select, high-margin area, including the enterprise sector, by delivering "complete IT solutions," Judge said. Corporations aren't interested in buying the cheapest box on the shelf, he said. Instead, they're looking for stable, secure, robust systems with low total ownership costs when services and support are factored in.

"We believe the PC industry is at a crossroads," Judge said. Companies that previously treated PCs as a commodity are now trying to reposition themselves as innovators. "These are companies that are spending most of their time today on M&A (merger-and-acquisition) activities," he said -- a not-so-subtle dig at the planned merger between Hewlett-Packard Co. and Compaq Computer Corp.

One of IBM's new offerings is ImageUltra, a software tool that lets companies create a single "super-image" of all necessary applications and operating systems for PCs in a corporate network. IBM can burn that single image on to a batch of PCs at the point of manufacture, allowing companies to later customize the image for each end user. ImageUltra and other related advances can save companies US$100 per PC, per year, IBM claims. ImageUltra software is included for no additional cost on all of the new PCs.

An array of optional security features are available for the new machines, including a new embedded security subsystem with a security chip that handles data encryption and user authentication. The new PCs are also better suited to wireless technologies, IBM said. Certain notebook models feature Bluetooth capabilities and a dual-antenna design intended to improve signal strength.

IBM has expanded and reorganized its catalog of branded PC series. A new "M" series of desktops, with prices ranging from $999 to $1,999, was introduced to house "workhorse" models of PCs offering stability and advanced security features. The "X" series of desktops featuring a hard drive and processor integrated with a flat-panel monitor was overhauled for a more streamlined appearance. Prices for that line range from $1,499 to $2,549.

In the ThinkPad portfolio, IBM created a new line -- the "R" series of entry-level-priced notebooks -- and added new models to three of its other lines, the "A" series of highly modular and versatile machines, the "X" series of extra-lights, and "T" series of laptops for road warriors.

All of the NetVista and three of the ThinkPad models are available now, with the "R30" ThinkPad due out Oct. 30.

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