The Guardian from London, Greater London, England on March 6, 1986 · 15
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The Guardian from London, Greater London, England · 15

London, Greater London, England
Issue Date:
Thursday, March 6, 1986
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Thursday, March. 6: 1086 r 15 Jack Schofield explores the Japanese computer industry's acMevements, aspirations and awe THE JAPANESE character, the system, of uniting rather tfiah7fhe famed diligence, is a major factor on the Japanese computing scene; it provides a barrier to exports from America and Britain, but it has also proved a disadvantage for. Japanese manufacturers. Whereas Japanese companies have become dominant suppliers of printers, disc drives, RAH chips and, to a lesser extent, monitors, theyhave not been successful in selling computers. While they have had a major impact in the games programming field through Taito (Space Invaders), Named' (Pacman), Donkey Kong (Nintendo) and-others, they have not enjoyed similar success in other areas, like business software. The key to success and failure is in the Japanese language itsel . The system of writing includes three topes of characters:' Kanji, Hiragana and Katafcana. The Kanji characters are : the ones derived from. Chinese; .there are about 6000 in common -use. Hiragana characters are the ordinary ones that (to the Untutored eye) look rather like Pitman's shorthand. Kata-kana characters are the ones . .used , for transliterating foreign names. Tho next gap io Beginning to open up THE JAPANESE believe that the computers of the future will be different from the ones common' today.; While the idea- of "generations" of computers is nased on technology the move, from valves to transistors to integrated circuits,.- etc It is much easier to understand the Japanese aims by taking a different, point of .view, as follows. 'v .;;; ; ;, : Originally, i computers' ptqi , cessed -numbers. they iiterr ally computed. Later,, com- Suters were used to process ate a quite difierent function.-In the next stage, computers will be required to Srocess knowledge. - Doing lis is the essence of the Fifth Generation Computer Systems (FGCS) project ' A knowledge-proces8sing computer will: obviously, have a number of characteristics that are not common today. It will require some sort of intelligence, the ability to make inferences,' and some sort of knowledge base. Likely concomitants .i are an intelligent man-machine : interface, possibly including speech recognition, , and "natural language processing" so that Japanese, or English, instructions . can automatically be converted into computer code. There are many possible applications for this type of computer. Most of. them are currently in the '"artificial intelligence" domain, such as decision support systems, machine translation, voice-operated typewriters, expert systems, medical consultation systems and robotics. The Institute for New Generation Computer Technology, (ICOT) is charged with building a prototype Fifth Generation computer under the direction often,. Japan's Ministry of: International Trade and Industry. -MOT is funding the research and development , and gets the rights to the patents and know-now which results. - The project started with two years of preliminary study (1979-81) before) the launch of a ten-year, 100 billion yen national project; This is being pursued . in three stages: initialresearch (1982-84), development of experimental sub-systems (1985-88) and the development of a prototype of the final system (1969-91). Over 700 researchers are involved. . .. . At the moment, progress seems to be going well in a number of areas, to the extent, that a new computer PSI or the Sequential Inference machine has already been completed, and is in use for the research. ''The final version will, of course, not be a numerical sequential computer but a parallel A symbolic modeL. The traditional von Neumann1 architecture will be left behind. So far PSI includes Kernal Language Zero (KLOj the . machine rianguageof PSI),the . programming language ESP (extended self-contained Pro-Inri and the Sednential Infer " ence Machine Operating system SIMPpsT . This includes, a mouserdriven WIMPS interface, and the researchers have , also hooked up a keyboard - music synthesiser. The-ext Kernal Language KL1 will incorporate parallelism and support , a "knowledge representation language" called Mandala. ; .Another, ' development group has 4 produced a relational database machine called Delta 1' running a parallel database management program, Reiser. This forms In the West, we have stumbled mightily over handling: our tiny set of alpha-numerics, to the extent that, even printing a humble pound , sign may be fraught with difficulties. The extremes of, say, accented French or German are often out of the question. American' companies have generally taken the attitude, with both applications 'software ' and computer languages, that you could have, anything you liked as long as it was American (disk, color, program). The problem of coping with 6,000 Kanji characters has rarely even been considered, let alone, tackled. But the; Japanese have had to tackte'it, and it has slowed down? the:, production and penetration of their micros. While Fujitsu. was first to offer Japanese language processing-in 1979, it is only in the last two or three years that Japanese language word processors have become widespread. Hence it is only since 1983 that computers have begun to make, an impact on Japanese office life, -and the whole market thus runs several years behind ours. ' . Even today Japanese word processing is complex and time-consuming. Using Fujitsu's word processor, for example, it is first necessary to type a, word, or phrase "as it sounds7' using the SO or so phonetic Hiragana keys. Then a, special conversion key is. pressed to convert these, to one Kanji symbol. AS many of these Chinese- characters ALL SMILES: the knowledgebase . subsystem. Delta is to be. linked to PSI via a network, but the .eventual aim involves wedding PSI (the inference machine and intelligent programming software) to the knowledge base, and implementing the whole thing in VLSI (very' large scale mte- gration) chip technology. Tackled in bits, the project's extravagant aims begin to seem quite feasible. Certainly the ICOT team seems to. have a clear sense of direction rather more than Britain's 350- million five-year Alvey project' an unashamed copy which it has stimulated, over here. In. many respects, it seems fair to observe that Britain is still' ahead, particularly In the parallel computing prototype Alice, which uses: the .Jnmoa Transputer, and the programming language' Occam though the Japanese "regard RISC (reduced instruction set) architectures as a short-term phenomenon, and anyway one: sometimes feels that the Transputer could be dumped at almost any moment However, the ICOT project , has achieved, many immediate benefits- in promoting coordinated research in Japan. sound the same, , the operator may faave to press the conversion key-half: a dozen times until the right one . appears. " For; comparison, ., it is as. thoughyou had to type in the English word "hare?; phonetically then step through; hair and heir to produce it on the screen. As a result, 'office.; com- Suters still seem to be rela-vely rare in Japan, and electronic mail almost unknown, while handwriting still dominates 'the desktop and facsimile machines are widely ' used for communications. But the Japanese character, has also had beneficial effects for the compute industry. It has, as mentioned, helped to keep out foreign competition; Unlike every other free market, Japan is not dominated by Ibm, - while Commodore, Apple,. Atari and Sinclair are almost unknown. It has also led to the production of very high quality printers and screens. If you aim to display or print Kanji characters then you need a high-resolution product - The typical American 200-line screen or 5 by 7 dot-matrix printer is simply not good enough. Thus low-cost high-resolution Japanese peripherals have gained the edge in world markets. ; When it comes to' com-; puters; however, the Japanese have been very, slow to come to terms - with, their failure. Companies like Fujitsu, NEC, . Hitachi and Sharp have perhaps' been Ahio Yamanouchi flen everything clicked for camera company FEW PEOPLE had heard of Canon before the company began sponsoring the . Football League. Those who had mostly, people interested in photography had' little idea of the scope of the company's activities. Today only ' about a third of Canon's sales come from cameras and, lenses, It also makes calculators, computers, printers, disc drives, .copiers; laser printers, facsimile machines,' -electronic typewriters, optical memory cards; X-ray, television, and 8mm video Jiroducts. It is the market eader in Japanese language word processing. ' At first glancelt -is difficult to see Why a small camera company should have expanded and prospered in this wav while others have strug gled or gone out of business, putting microchips inside the The simple: perhaps aim- AE-l, whtehbeciune the best-plistlc - answer is that selling SLR of all time. Now Canon adopted and pursued surprised to discover that thefr personal computers are virtually unsaleable; in the West with over 50 per cent of the markets 'for printers and disc drives how could their micros only win a two or three, per cent? However, how they seem to be adopting a two-tier system, whereby different products are targeted ' at the home - and expert markets. A topical example is the Sharp HBWJ60O. Th& is a standard Offering in Japan, but of little interest in the UK, as it does; not run -off-the-shelf IBM. PC software.. However,' its higher resolution and speed, necessary for Kanji,, mean it can be offered as a small-scale . CAD . (computer-, aided design) workstation here, while a different machine the transportable PC-7000 . ' is marketed as an IBM PC-compatible. . Canon, Epson and Toshiba have belatedly" entered the desk-top IBM P&compatible market, while Toshiba, Panasonic . and Sony are among those offering compatible transportables. However, the Taiwanese and Koreans have been far quicker off the mark. . In the home micro, market, Japan is dominated by the MSX system. According to Kay Nishi of ASCII who was mainly responsible for the design there are about 100 different MSX models on the Japanese market, of which about 90- are being heavily promoted. Indeed, going into Japanese computer shops, often reveals row upon Picture "Sy Jack Schofield new technology. It succeeded . by using integrated circuits to run everything, including its.; robotised production ' lines. - Initially, the company aim was simple: "Overcome Leica camera." The expansion into other areas came about thanks to the failure of the , Syncb.rdreader, a device for combining 'the written word with the recorded voice, for educational use. According to " Akio Yamanouchi, general manager of corporate technical planning, designing the Synchroreader. meant hiring electronics engineers. When, the. product failed, rather than fire them, all and dose down the operation, they - switched to pocket calculators,- where the -market .boomed. ' ; The experience taught the -company a number of things . . which it used to advantage. . First was the idea of "tech-nology transfer" applying people with one set of skills to the' problems inherent in - another product. Canon's :.-electronics engineers later 'revolutionised the manufac ture of serious cameras by it pura cmps in everytning. row of. these identikit products, with' ho sign of a Sinclair or Commodore or other Western rival; , MSX, of course, offers'. Japanese lan-. guage word processing and . Western computers don't Like, their more serious brethren, MSX micros have: ;been unsuccessful in Europe -and the US, although a few non-Japanese companies also, make them (eg Philips and. . Korea's GoldStar). 'However, Kay Nishi argues that this was mainly' because they . were launched' at too high a price.: He . is ; confident that they will take over the world' market in the long run. In the short term, it is clear ' that the Japanese can compete. As long as the market is fairly stable, which it will be as long as we insist: on-maintaining the antiquated design-of the IBM PC as' a. standard. . Success will come, from high- quality proauction tecn-niques, and effective marketing. .These are things that we know from their success in making televisions video recorders,: cars, copiers and cameras the Japanese can do:- In the longer term, however, the Japanese language may prove to be an even more difficult barrier.' .: In the future, we expect manufacturing to move to developing- countries where wages arelbw and away -from the more highly-developed countries which have both high -wages -and: high social costs. Japan is rapidly moving into this category, instead of manufacturing alone, we Second: the company learned the value of hiring expertise. Yamanouchi. him- ' self -formerly worked for Olympus and Konishiroku, while half the current development centre staff previously worked for other companies. As Yamanouchi says, -this is not the Japanese way." Third, Canon discovered that being late into a market was no barrier to progress. It did not matter that other, larger companies, were already well established, if you could, offer "ease of use to the consumer." The key, as Sony and other Japanese companies have also found, is design. - , Whore every gamp boa winner THE CRAZE for electronic games that hit America in 1979-81 and Britain in 1982-84 is currently raging in Japan. The main beneficiary is not Atari or Commodore but the' : Kyoto-based toy, company Nintendo,' whose Family expect the West to come to rely on information processing which includes banking, insurance, and the ex- Sloitation of ; the .vast atabaseslwhich-are, already being cbttpiled'Tn Britain andlhe'US. 'V- TUnw'ttia tha thai the overwhelming, majority of wis lmormauon ppssioi ' 95 ner cent is already hel in the. English language, - while . the amount held In Jap anese is negugJDie. , Come the time when contin ued financial success denehdson the abilitv to con trol and utilise vast trans national data flows, it is dim- cult to see how the Japanese will be able to compete. And even if Japanese-English machine translation is perfected,- this will still' impose an expensive overhead: on any transactions that take place. So far. the Japanese have done well at overcoming inherent disadvantages like their shortage of natural resources. Whether they can overcome the difficulties created by the Japanese writ ten character remains to oe seen. Certainly none of the people I talked to in Japan would admit .that it was even potentially a nroblem. v Perhaps the pay-off -comes after the AmericanEEC heee- mony has; been replaced b. a new . QomiDani iinanciui structure, centred -around Japan,-Taiwan, Korea; inga pore, nong Kong ana unina. The irrelevant script may then be Roman, while the Chinese written character is dengeur. : ' Computer is selling . faster than -retailers can put- it on the shelves. Ydshio Tomitaka of Yodabashi Camera in Shinjuku says "One day we get a few hundred in;, within an hour they are all gone, Every day we receive between 300 and 500 telephone calls from customers asking if we have got the computer." Even when you can find one in a denartment store, you cant get near it for tne scrum oi aias playing Mario uros; The Family Computer was . launched m July 1983, and by the end of January, 1986 sales had reached 6.2 million units, with a market share of about 99 per cent In roughly the same time period, MSX com puters nave soia only from .500,000 . (according to ; Nintendo); to 1.1 million (according to Kay Nishi) con soles. Nintendo's production is 4uu,ooo a montn. The Family Computer IFamiuony is not, ot course, a . computer, it is a cheap-look: ing red and white plastic video games console rather like Atari's old VCS Video Computer. System.. However, it offers ' far better graphics :, than the VCS, and the games put most Sinclair Spectrum offerings to shame:" The FamiCom is sold with joy sticks and two cartridge games for, 14,800 yen about 57 which is relatively inexpensive for Japan: Games cost 4,900 yen each (19) but are discounted to 3,800 yen (14.50) in Akihabara and similar shopping areas. Nintendo offers 31 cartridges, -with the 'most bonu- lar Super Mario Brothers selling over, three million. About 30 other .companies inciuuing, namco ana lancy also offer cartridges under licence. Nintendo, says- there are mnre thnii nne hiinHrpH' games available, with Uttee'll or four new ones appearing-every month. 'This may not seem much by Spectruin stari-dards, but it is revolutionary for Japan. While some 80 per cent of users oniy want games, Nintendo, also offers a - Beginner' Basic language caruiage,- ana users can aaa . a computer keyboard to con-. vert it into a sort of simple home micro. . The huge user base is now . nromntine further develon- ments along these lines. Last ' montn JMintenao launcnea.a 2.81n 110K microfloppy disc drive and 32K RAM expansion pack. There is also a new gadget , called- Disk Writer, some 5,000 of which are going into shops. The Disk Writer is a sort of slot machine. The idea is that you stick a, floppy, disc into it and it writes-a new game on it to replace your old one; The attraction is price. Games can be sold on disc for only 2,500 yen almost half the price of a cartridge while rewriting a disc costs only 500 yen (under 2): This compares. with, say, the initial charge for getting . into a Tokyo taxi of 470 . yen';.- The! attraction for: Nintendo . is that they.want to' keep the,, system, in consuini. . use- as sales climb .towards 10 million units. They don't wadt to see sales of software fall away, as happened with Atari's expensive cartridges after more than . 20 million VCS consoles had been sold.' Nintendo is .also lookin'g to exploit the American market;' and' delivered ,550,000 consoles . for . sale .in the. New . York area last Christmas. The American version uses the' same, custom processor and 52;colour video display system, but the physical - design) is different ii looks much smarter, and requires a Same cartridge' with difierent imehsions. Along with the $160 console you get two games, a light gun (which looks like a hand-gun) called Zapper and a small -" robot which takes its instructions, from the television screen. - MtiAiMBBs Ecetetlc Zonith : mnmem' ip " APRICOT not J very pleased whena.Sunday newspaper report said it had ' lost market,share;rNow three dif-ferentresear,ch companies have produced; flgures,;."Tor current sales of personal 'computers and the Apricot figures might again hit the -'headlines. According to Wharton Information Systems, . a; survey of a hundred dealers this month shows Apricot has "pushed up from their poor position in August" when -Wharton's 3 per cent . figure caused all the fuss "to a more respectable 8-9 per cent?' However, this is still only half what almost everyone else thinks is Apricot's minimum" market share. A Romtec survey based on a panel of .250 dealers (the same number as on Wharton's total panel) gives Apricot a 15 per cent share of the .1985 market While this is the same as "for 1984' however, the monthly : figures show Apricot sales are "soft" A similar survey by Context, based on 373 dealers, gives Apricot a 19.1 per cent share for November-January, rising from 18.4 per cent . in September-November. Context notes that Apricot's deal-dealer base is dropping (ie; dealers are stopping selling the machines) butt observes .that Apricot "is probably changing from quantity to quality" as the Xen is taken up.. . -The. other major brands in the business market are' . Apple, Olivetti, Compaq and, or course, IBM. Wharton awards. Olivetti a . 15 per cent share for January, up from an 8 per: cent' share in December, following an 11 'per cent for the previous month. Context , also puts Olivetti's share at about 11 Ser cent in November, but lomtec gives the company only 7 per cent for 1985 as a whole. When it comes to Compaq, Wharton is again the odd one out Wharton gives the company about 10 per cent with Romtec and Context both saying 4 per cent which is quite a difference. All three surveys agree that IBM dominates the market Wharton scores IBM at 48 per cent for November and December, Context at about 40 per cent for the same1 months, and Romtec 41 per , cent for the whole of 1985. And considering the price performance ratio of the IBM PC, that must be the strangest result of all. . Doot'sDeaglo IF there were prizes for tortured acronyms, lots of computer companies would be in the running. One not particularly well-heeled software house with an arch approach to acronyms has "just come up with Beagle which, believe it Or not, stands for Bionic Evolutionary Algorithm Generating: Logical Expressions. This is a "novel data-analysis system" for the IBM PC and DEC VAX computers, "incorporating several advanced ideas from the field of artificial ihtelli- - ' gence. It not only tests hypotheses ... it actually proposes hypotheses to be tested." It does this using the Darwinian ideas of the "survival of the fittest" Warm Boot is the name of the software house (01-278 0333). bthe cool confidence that, once'eharactensed you, being thteatened by the sudden presence of the computer? Dp words like floppy discs , "commands", "operating system", "peripherals", "menus" ... leave you feeling you need go back to school? Now'slbetimeto' get back on top. A short course at The Management Centre will quickly arid , unobtrusively equip you to uUk ph s time you rang us. equal terms with the computerised majority AtMCL, experienced, sympathetic training professionals wUl guide you step by step to your required tad of competence. whether It'ssinipiy an introduction to computers or an livanced course InyotircrKmisormarepacloge or snywhere to between -r- MO, It the placetoleam. ' Ringusnowfcryourcopyofour brochure. The Mtuiagement Centre Limited 2529VfbrshlpStreet. London, EC2A2DX. THE, American inland revenue (IRS) has announced that its $28 millions contract for 13,000 lap-top. computers has gone not to IBMi as. had been expected; but to Zenith for the Z-17L It's an IBM-compatible with a , 5.251n. disc drive rather than a: 3.8ih., and a legible back-lit LCD" screen.' :.' ""v';'.; :, . A report in Infomatics Daily Bulletin says, that among the companies, beaten by an "extremely ecistatic" Zenith were IBM,-Grid, Texas Instruments, Data General, Sperry and ; AT&T; with . Olivetti's now U-19. . . CDM not sunk NOTWITHSTANDING the horrendous - $53.2 millions loss in . its - last . quarter, it seems the . banks are . now . unlikely to force Commodore into Chapter 11 bankruptcy. -The company .says it has .'.'reached an! agreement in v principle" to , get -worldwide credit facilities of $135' millions through March is; 1987 a whole year away. Commodore has been technically in default on a $192 millions, loan since last June, and there , have been unconfirmed rumours, reported, on The, Source and Micronet that the company has been trying to sell off its new Amiga micro to raise cash. The Amiga, which . Commodore acquired by buying the Amiga Corporation, gets its European launch this week. Staying alivo ROBTEK'S multi-function Game Killer cartridge for the Commodore 64 offers an interesting facility: pressing a button enables you to knock out the "sprite collision" detection from commercial games.. In other words, it allows you to go through a large proportion of Commodore games without being Wiled. Now this makes games boring, but it does allow you to move up to : higher levels before switching the collision detection back in. That assumes. of course, that the "higher levels" are there. , It seems: some, software companies, have games which claim vast numbers of screens, but these can be hard to find when you cheat One BMX bike' game, for example, has a repetitive finale the same hit? of. road just gets repeated interminably, then, even that disappears and, you -end up scrolling.; through' RAM! AnothejPdlfficuft "multi-leveiv, game turns out to have just three screens. . In future, software houses are going to have to resist the temptation to say "Well, theyll never get past here,' and actually finish their games off as advertised. Computer Quardlan Is edited by Jack Schofield Tel. 01-588 2789 m3 MICROCOMPUTER TRAl

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