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AST Rolls Out PCs With Simpler Interface, Sophisticated Phone Features With PM-Compaq

April 18, 1994

NEW YORK (AP) _ One personal computer maker recently hiked its sales to consumers by adding the functions of a telephone answering machine.

Another created a look on the screen that makes it easier to understand where programs are.

Today, AST Research Inc. will begin selling new PCs in its Advantage line for the home that combine and advance both achievements.

In doing so, the world’s fifth-largest PC company for the first time moves ahead of competitors in the capabilities its products offer to consumers at prices they’re used to paying.

The new AST computers rely heavily on multimedia, high-quality sound and video stored on a compact disc known as a CD-ROM. The technology has been driven by consumers, particularly parents of school-age children, because it makes possible easy-to-use computerized encyclopedias and books and richly- detailed games.

The new machines contain software called AST Works, which brings a simpler appearance to the screen than the normal icons that represent programs. Packard Bell Inc. made a similar change to its models two months ago.

But AST Works has more features, including video explanations from its technicians for running the computer.

″We’re really at a relatively early stage with these interfaces, but AST has done a good job,″ said Richard Zwetchkenbaum, head of PC research at International Data Corp. in Framingham, Mass. ″They’ve taken advantage of the technology they have and looked at the competition. This should deliver a good image for them in the marketplace and greater sales for their systems.″

Irvine, Calif.-based AST has also included telephone features not previously seen as a standard feature in PCs. With AST Works, the new PCs will store, record and forward both voice messages and faxes.

A family can even create separate answering systems for each person. For example, a caller would be told to ″Press 1 for John,″ ″Press 2 for Mary,″ ″Press 3 for Sally″ and so on.

Someone away from home could call in, listen to their voice messages, get the computer to describe the fax messages and forward the faxes to another number.

And, working with the Organizer program of Lotus Development Corp., the computer can automatically dial telephone numbers and store information from calls.

The ability to link the phone, message and database system will be most important to people who run businesses from home.

″With the capabilities the system provides, you can give the impression that you’re a Fortune 500 company when in fact you’re a one- or two-person operation,″ said Dennis Cox, director of marketing for AST’s consumer products.

The incorporation of the simple interface and telephone management features reflects the need for big PC makers to distinguish themselves in ways other than chip speed and price.

It also signifies a drive in the industry to make the PC an ″information appliance″ that is central to many homes. While such efforts had been under way for some time, they gained prominence last summer when Compaq Computer Corp. announced its Presario line for consumers, incorporating telephone answering capabilities.

Earlier this year, the German PC maker Vobis began packaging software to run security, heating, lighting and other household equipment in its PCs for consumers.

People who buy PCs for home use are still worried about technical features like the speed of the microprocessor and modem and size of the hard drive.

But, AST’s Cox noted, ″They’re less interested in the bits and bytes underlying the computer and more interested in what it can do for them.″

In addition to AST Works, the new machines are equipped with MS-DOS, Windows, Phoenix Fax and Microsoft Works, an integrated word processing, spreadsheet and database program.

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