A.T.&T. Introduces Unix Computer

By David E. Sanger
The New York Times

March 27, 1985

A year after it made its first and faltering start in the computer market, the American Telephone and Telegraph Company yesterday introduced its most sophisticated personal computer. The machine relies heavily on the company's expertise in communications.

The machine, the Unix PC, is named for the A.T.&T.-developed operating system that the company is trying to establish as an industry standard for desktop computers. The system has previously been used on minicomputers.

Industry experts called the machine the most intriguing of a number of computers introduced in the last few days - by Texas Instruments Inc., the Compaq Computer Corporation and others - that compete head- on with the International Business Machines Corporation's PC-AT.

Separately yesterday, the Burroughs Corporation and Honeywell Inc. took on I.B.M. at the other end of the computer spectrum: mainframes. Burroughs, as expected, showed a machine that will rival the power of I.B.M.'s new Sierra series - along with the V-series of new mid- sized computers. Honeywell also introduced a top-of-the-line machine, the DPS-90, made for the company by the NEC Corporation of Japan.

Other A.T.&T. Products

In addition to the new personal computer, which supports up to nine users on remote terminals and carries a base price of $5,095, A.T.&T. introduced a range of other products. Among them were enhancements for the PC 6300, the company's troubled I.B.M.-compatible machine, and a relatively inexpensive local area network to link hundreds of independent computers. A.T.&T. officials hope that the enhancements for the 6300, including a new modem and hard- disk drive, will spur sales of the machine, which retailers say has performed poorly since it was introduced last year.

The most innovative and surprising part of the announcement, however, was the $1,800 A.T.&T. Personal Terminal. The combination computer terminal and telephone is designed for executives who want to call up information stored in a personal computer - perhaps one on a secretary's desk or a co-worker's - without making substantial changes to the material.

It also features automatic dialing and a speaker phone, and an unusual screen, called the Softscreen. The screen is made out of a clear plastic sheet covering a gel; users send instructions to the terminal by placing a finger on the screen, which bends to the touch.

''It is probably the sexiest part of the entire announcement,'' said Thomas Crotty, an analyst with the Gartner Group, a market research firm based in Stamford, Conn. ''But I worry about A.T.&T. - I just don't know if they will ever get their act together.''

Disappointed by Pricing

That view was shared by other analysts, who had anticipated most of A.T.&T.'s announcement but said they were disappointed by the pricing. They hailed the technology of the Starlan local area network, for example, because it transmits a million bits of information a second over the twisted-pair wiring that most offices already use for telephone communications. But most said that the price, about $725 per computer connected to the network, was about $200 too high, especially for a system that runs at about one-tenth the speed of the leading local area network, called Ethernet.

The pricing of the Unix machine, which includes a hard-disk drive and a built-in modem, was more aggressive. The computer is designed for office workers who may need to tap the computer's power simultaneously, something that Unix is far better designed for than I.B.M.'s standard PC operating system, called MS-DOS.

''What we have done is civilized Unix,'' said James D. Edwards, president of A.T.&T.'s computer division. ''It's no longer a system you can figure out how to use only if you work in Bell Labs.''

The new machine uses a Motorola 68010 microprocessor and comes with 512,000 bytes, or characters, of internal memory.

GRAPHIC: photo of the Unix personal computer

Copyright 1985 The New York Times Company