September 1991

Sun, SGI go downscale on workstations
by Eliot Bergson

Mountain View, CA: Two of NeXT's workstation competitors last month introduced lower-priced systems that may pose new challenges to NeXT's growing share of the professional workstation market.

Sun Microsystems introduced the monochrome SPARCstation ELC, a replacement for the company's SLC, starting at $4995 for a diskless model, the same list price as a base NeXTstation. An ELC with a 200MB hard disk costs $6295, still within reach of potential first-time workstation buyers and those wanting to upgrade from PCs. Sun also announced a new midpriced color offering, the SPARCstation IPX, for $13,495.

Silicon Graphics (SGI) entered the fray with the color-based IRIS Indigo, priced at $7995, the same price as the NeXTstation Color machine. It offers 3-D graphics and digital audio tape (DAT)-quality sound but is diskless and has no video-to-disk or compression capabilities.

"Anybody who delivers lots of price/performance at a midpriced level is inevitably a competitor of ours," said Mike Slade, NeXT's director of marketing.

But the battle for professional users does not center only on price and performance, according to Lisa Thorell, a workstation-industry analyst with Dataquest of San Jose, California. "Sun is simplistic; it reacts to large market shares." The path of least resistance for them is to appeal to sophisticated PC users who want more power and strong software support, she said.

But that's not true interpersonal computing, allowing all workers in a group to contribute equally, according to Curtis Sasaki, NeXT's manager of hardware marketing "For Sun to sustain its growth, it decided to get into the professional workstation market. But you also have to have a great software base."

The IRIS Indigo machine challenges NeXT's attempt to take a share of the multimedia market, said Dataquest's Thorell. "SGI has lots of resources and has attracted lots of software. It is the Porsche of the workstation community. NeXT has to refine and narrow its marketing strategy to compete directly."

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