Hang ups

15th March 1996 at 00:00
It wasn't until Valentine's Day that most of us heard the shock announcement that Acorn and Apple are to marry. It isn't clear whether our own English rose, taking advantage of a leap year, popped the question or whether the cool dude from Cupertino took one look at his country-mouse cousin and fell head- over-heels.

At first sight they seem an unlikely match. Acorn is the classic governess type: a little gauche, always unsure of her status, not often seen in adult circles, but simply wonderful with the kiddies. Apple, on the other hand, with its cooler than thou image, is the epitome of sophistication: debonair, slick, unconventional enough to be strangely interesting, and invariably seen in all the best circles.

What, we ask, could they have possibly seen in each other? Well, let's hope they weren't each after the other's money. They are both on their uppers. The companies have gone through traumatic restructuring programmes - which means lots of accountants have had the screaming ab-dabs, and even more people have lost their jobs.

Wagging tongues might hint that Acorn and Apple are clinging to each other for fear of being left on the shelf while a feckless world pursues the PC. The happy couple, however, as they gaze dreamily into each other's eyes, know that it is a marriage made in heaven. "This joint venture creates a major new force which will take educational IT in the UK into a new generation of development, " simpers David Lee of the Acorn Group. Nigel Taylor coos in reply, "This agreement with Acorn is part of Apple's strategy to reinvent the way it does business and to focus on growing markets that can deliver customers secure future technology investments."

The newly-weds will certainly have an impressive range of hardware to sell. It will include Acorn's A series and tremendously popular Pocket Book, together with Apple's Power PCs, Performas, laptops and Newton MessagePads. But the real cause for celebration isn't the existing products but a string of happy events that are expected - but not, of course, for another nine months or so. They are going to cross-fertilise (finding verbs is never easy) and the offspring will be a new generation of hardware which will knock the PC for six. It will be based on the Advanced Risc Machines (ARM) technology which both companies already jointly develop. It is the basis of both Apple's Newton and Acorn's new set-up box which is poised to come into its own once punters wake up to the wonders of being on-line.

But that is only part of the story. This is very much "an arranged marriage", fixed in some smoke-filled room by Apple and Acorn's mysterious Italian parent, Olivetti Telemedia.

Olivetti has its heart set on the European education market - and presumably, from there to get a foot-hold in American schools which are already well disposed towards Apple. What Acorn has to offer is an unrivalled history of catering specifically for schools, coupled with the loyalty of a dozen or so small but energetic software houses. These have survived because they were prepared to go to inordinate lengths to produce what teachers wanted, rather than what programmers wanted to write. If they can keep British teachers asking for more, the chances are they could do the same for teachers in Seville or Sienna or Sofia or even Seattle - the home of the mighty Microsoft. However many dollars Microsoft and the other conglomerates can muster, they won't be able to buy the 16 years of hard-won experience that Acorn and its software houses can call upon.

The only cloud hanging over this marriage is the guest list. Families on both sides are notoriously partisan and so it might be wise to have a few hefty ushers on hand to keep them from squabbling as the happy couple make their procession up the aisle. ARM in ARM, of course.

Hang ups e-mail address: arnoldevans@easynet.co.uk

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