Acer took a strong stand against direct selling at its European distributors' meeting in Taiwan this week. It intends to broaden its business, particularly into Internet software, but only by working through its channel, claimed president Tze-Chen Tu.
The Taiwanese company, whose distributors' meeting coincided with the massive Comptec trade show in the country, also outlined nearer term plans for new mobile PCs and monitors, claiming the network computer is "the wrong model for almost everyone".
But the highlight of the announcement was a proposal to invest $20-40 million in research and development in order to set up a software business by the end of the century.
Acer does not aim to take on the mainstream giants such as Microsoft, but will focus on localised software content and services and on the Internet. Some of its products will be optimised for the Asia-Pacific market, and it also wants to identify regions around the world that have specific software and support needs, that may be neglected by the US giants. These will be addressed via local resellers and ISVs.
The company needs to move into software in order to survive in a "software-intensive century driven by the Internet," accordint to Tze-Chen Tu. Among the Internet products planned are content for local Webcasting services, and home applications for sale to consumers. Acer believes electronic commerce, in particular, will spread to consumers by the early years of the next century.
Chief executive Stan Shih reaffirmed the company's anti-direct selling stand. Its main channel change in the next few years will be to make more products as an OEM, even for rival PC makers, especially monitors, he said. "But we are anti-direct," he repeated when questioned about recent moves by Compaq away from channel-only sales.
Shih was also critical of network computers and said Acer would not sell the devices. "The NC is not the right product for anyone. It is too dependent on the server," he said. He prefers to support the Microsoft-backed Net PC model, which is less risky for the manufacturer because it uses the same parts as conventional PCs, he argued.
The chief executive's third criticism was of Intel's Pentium II Slot 1 architecture, which Acer claimed to the press conference was less reliable than Socket 7 and "is in the interest of Intel not the consumer".
Among the new products previewed were a range of wireless mobile computers based on the mobile technology acquired from Texas Instruments earlier this year. Also included were Tyrus, a security product that allows stolen notebooks to be made useless remotely; and Digital Light Process screens for notebooks, also based on TI technology.
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