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Computer Makers Hope To Make Machines Talk To Each Other

January 7, 1986

NEW YORK (AP) _ Computer companies are planning a summit meeting this month to discuss how to clear away the technical and competitive obstacles that stand in the way of easy communication between different brands of machines.

Planners hope to make computers and related equipment as easy to interconnect as stereo receivers, speakers and tape decks made by different companies, A.G.W. Biddle, president of the Computer and Communications Industry Association in Arlington, Va., said Monday.

Incompatibility of brands of equipment is the biggest headache of data managers because it obstructs the flow of information inside their companies, such as from the shop floor to the accounting department to the front office.

″This initiative is a very important step in the history of this industry,″ Biddle said. ″It should free up a tremendous amount of resources for innovation.″

Eighteen companies that are spearheading the standardization drive have invited about 50 others - including industry leader International Business Machines Corp. - to attend a Jan. 23 meeting to discuss their plans.

Members of the ″Group of 18″ hope to convince IBM and the others to join them in a non-profit organization called the Corporation for Open Systems that will specify standards and test equipment for compliance.

The organization would start with a budget of $8 million to $10 million a year, Biddle said. Each founding member would put up $125,000 in 1986 and $200,000 each year afterward, he said.

IBM will participate in the Jan. 23 meeting but has not formally decided whether to join the Corporation for Open Systems, spokesman Brian Ditzler said Monday. Biddle said he expects IBM to accept. The deadline to become a founding member is March 1.

IBM’s participation would be crucial to the organization’s success, said Richard Stuckey, a partner in the technical services organization of Arthur Andersen & Co. in Chicago.

″If all of (the other computer makers) agreed to it, even added together they still don’t carry as much weight as IBM,″ Stuckey said.

Members of the Group of 18 include such major players as American Telephone & Telegraph Co., Bell Communications Research, Digital Equipment Corp., Control Data Corp., Burroughs Corp., Honeywell Inc., Xerox Corp., NCR Corp., National Semiconductor Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Harris Corp.

In the absence of an agreed-upon set of standards, most companies have sought to make their computers and peripheral equipment able to communicate with IBM computers, but many have complained that IBM makes it difficult for them to keep up with its own changing technology.

Although IBM makes public the specifications for its Systems Network Architecture, other computer makers say it often does so too late or in too little detail, keeping them constantly on the run to catch up.

IBM’s Ditzler declined to comment on the criticism but said the company has been working with other organizations to make its Systems Network Architecture compatible with international communications standards.

Making computers able to communicate is a formidable technical challenge because different internal architectures produce output in entirely different formats. The project could also present political difficulties if each manufacturer vies to have the standards fit its own products.

Biddle said it was his ″optimistic″ prediction that by 1990, more than half of all computer systems in the United States will be able to work with each other. He said the U.S. group will work closely with a parallel effort under way in Europe.

The basis for the standardization is Open Systems Interconnect, which was recommended in 1978 by the International Standards Organization and has been fleshed out in the years since.

Biddle said Open Systems Interconnect itself is of little value as a standard because it allows too much latitude. He said the Corporation for Open Systems will work to pare it down to a subset that all computer makers will be asked to follow.