The PC market is heading for a scrap as the Millennium approaches.
Late last month, at a two-day conference in Scandinavia, Fujitsu set out its game plan for becoming a top three PC player by the end of the century.
With global revenues of $35 billion (#21.3 billion), Fujitsu is the world's number two IT company, second only to IBM, according to researcher IDC.
However, when it comes to PCs, Fujitsu has some way to go. At the end of last year the company held fifth position worldwide, after Compaq, IBM, Packard/ Bell, NEC and Hewlett-Packard.
Judging by recent performance, Fujitsu stands a chance of achieving its goal. Last year, according to IDC figures, the company grew by 110%. This makes it the world's fastest growing PC company. At the end of last year, the company's growth reached 147%. This was mainly due to strong sales in Germany and the Nordic countries, although Fujitsu UK has also grown steadily.
Raimo Puntala, European VP of professional PC operations at Fujitsu, said the company's ability to develop and manufacture its own system components was the key to its PC strategy.
"Who else does this? AST, IBM and NEC do - and all these companies are in the top 10 PC companies worldwide," Puntala said.
At the conference, Fujitsu launched several attacks on market leader Compaq. The criticism was sometimes pitiful to observe - for instance, when the company spent some time comparing the weight of the Compaq Armada with a Fujitsu Lifebook.
According to Puntala, companies such as Compaq are nothing more than "screwdriver manufacturers". "The more components you make yourself", he added, "the easier it is to control the quality."
Hugh Jenkins, enterprise group product manager at Compaq UK, sharply disputed this "screwdriver" accusation: "we manufacture our own motherboards, we do our own ASIC work and we do a lot of our own development on peripherals such as network cards." He described Fujitsu's claim as "naive".
Fujitsu also develops custom- designed products. One customer with a particular requirement was the Post Office which is buying 40,000 PCs, all encased in a black, plastic box rather than the run-of-the-mill beige packaging.
Fujitsu claims it develops the motherboards, BIOS and plastic casing for all its PCs. Puntala, said: "we can guarantee continuity in our products. No changes are incorporated in any part of them without our knowledge."
Puntala believes it will become increasingly essential for manufacturers to make their own system components.
He identifies R&D as another important element of its PC strategy. "Last year we spent $3.5 billion on R&D. Compare that to Sun, which spent $720 million, and Compaq which spent $280 million."
System ergonomics also has an important role to play. Speak to any executive at Fujitsu and you will quickly discover it is a pet topic.
At the company's Linkoping R&D division in Sweden, special labs have been set up to test sound and electrical emissions from PCs.
Tom Idermark, architecture manager of the division, commented: "In Nordic and Japanese countries, quiet PCs are very important. In Nordic countries, there doesn't tend to be any air conditioning because of the weather, so the noise a PC makes is noticeable. In Japan, it's a case of space, with so many PCs packed into offices amplifying any noise."
Fujitsu concedes it has not exploited the ergonomic features of its machines from a marketing viewpoint, leaving rival manufacturers such as AST to clean up the market. AST recently ran adverts about the "quietest" PC in the world.
Fujitsu purports to offer a wide range of ergonomically designed products, including a split-design keyboard with a wrist rest, a non-flickering, anti-glare screen, small footprint machines and health and safety aids called ErgoFoot and ErgoArm which are designed for improved posture and operator comfort.
The NetPC also features in Fujitsu's desktop future. Earlier this month, the company announced plans to develop a system conforming to the Microsoft/Intel network computer specification.
Rami Raulas, director of corporate business at Fujitsu, said: "Not very many new things are happening in the corporate market, but we're very excited by the NetPC. I believe people have taken the idea of the NetPC, rather than the NC, to their hearts as they like the idea of simpler PCs.
The NetPC builds on companies' existing investments and supports the widest range of applications. The NetPC has already earned its place in the market."
Preliminary specifications for Fujitsu's NetPC include support for 32-bit Windows applications, ActiveX-based software components and Java.
It will also have a hard drive, but no CD-ROM or floppy. "I think we need to get rid of the hard drive, if we're to bring the price down further," said Raulas.
Fujitsu has yet to confirm when its NetPC devices will ship. But announcements are expected later this year.
Glen Koskela, product marketing manager of Fujitsu's NetPC business, in Finland, said: "the market expects the NetPC to have an initial purchase price at least 20% lower than the standard PC. Our strategy is to make even greater savings for the user with a specification which continues through the lifetime of the product."
Like Compaq, Fujitsu wants to be lead player in the notebook market.
Right now, according to Dataquest, Compaq is number three, behind Toshiba and IBM respectively.
Jyrki Miettenen, director of product marketing for notebooks at Fujitsu, forsees huge growth in the mobile market over the next three years, and predicts 80% of primary PCs will be replaced by notebooks by the year 2000.
"Fujitsu has over 10 years of mobile experience," said Miettenen, who firmly believes the company's ability to make its own system components will help dominate the notebook sector.
"We have a great source of core technologies in Japan for notebooks, such as mass memory and screens. We will be the first to bring MMX capability to notebooks," he claimed.
Fujitsu had a successful 1996, but has some way to go before achieving its goal of becoming a top three PC player by the turn of the century.
In spite of its posturings on Compaq, the company is still the smaller of the two in the PC market and would be foolish to forget it.
But one thing is certain. If Fujitsu's mission fails, it won't be for a lack of trying. As Puntala pointed out in his summing up of Fujitsu's business philosophy: "This is typical Japanese; they will work hard to ensure they succeed."
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