The second and third biggest suppliers of computers to schools, Acorn and Apple, have joined forces to form a new company to challenge market leader Research Machines.
The surprise announcement was made in London this week, when bosses of the former rival companies revealed that the Pounds 5 million joint venture - they are 50-50 partners - would start in April, taking over the roles of Acorn Education and Apple Schools. The new company is aiming for a turnover of Pounds 60 million. Apple and its dealers will still sell Apple Macs and other products. Acorn Computer Group's remaining divisions will concentrate on developing on-line services and new technologies.
So what do you get when you cross an Acorn with an Apple? Customers will have to wait until March for the name of the new company. However, its product range is likely to be one of the biggest in education, from an assortment of Acorn A-series and Risc PC computers with palmtop Pocket Books, to Apple Power PCs, Performas, PowerBook laptops and hand-held Newton Message Pads. More importantly, it will probably have the most extensive software portfolio in the world - Acorn claims to have the most educational software in the UK, and Apple the most in the United States.
Cynics will see the development as a desperate attempt by two troubled companies to head off the inroads being made by Windows PCs into the computers market. But their friends in education, and both have many loyal customers, will see it as a well-starred marriage of convenience. Both firms have more advanced and easier-to-use technology than Windows PCs; Acorn offers Apple its immense experience and expertise in UK education, and Apple can give Acorn and its software developers an outlet to its US and world markets. And, in the long-term, Acorn will move to an industry standard - PowerPC.
So does this mean the demise of Acorn's own RiscOS operating system? Not in the short term. Both companies have successfully upgraded before - Acorn from BBC to Archimedes; Apple from Macintosh to Power Mac - without losing customers. There is no reason to suppose that current Acorn software will not run on a future PowerPC machine from the new company.
"We do not intend to do anything which will mean the investment that schools have made in our technology will be lost," says Acorn managing director David Lee.
More information from: Acorn Computers, Acorn House, Vision Park, Histon, Cambridge CB4 4AE, tel: 01223 254254; or Apple Computer, 16 Roundwood Avenue, Stockley Park, Uxbridge, Middlesex UB11 1BB, tel: 0181 569 1199.