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Cheap Computers For Internet To Come To Eastern Markets

Prague, March 14 (RFE/RL) -- A top manager at IBM says inexpensive internet computers soon will be a major product for businesses from Prague to Moscow. Internet computers, also known as "network" computers, operate only through an internet connection with a central support system.

Tjeerd van Wieren, the regional manager in charge of IBM Global Network's operations in Central Europe and Russia, told RFE/RL in Prague today that internet computers are "clearly the strategy and path" that IBM will follow.

However, industry analysts say eastern and central Europe's development of the internet -- a network that links computers together around the world -- depends a great deal upon the commitment each government makes toward upgrading their basic telecommunications infrastructure.

Van Wieren said IBM is now focusing on developing the internet infrastructure in ten countries across central and eastern Europe. These are Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Russia, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine.

He said the company's efforts include talks with government officials in some of those countries, but said IBM is currently N-O-T negotiating with officials in Moscow.

He said IBM will expand its efforts "as far east as possible," but the development will be "gradual." He also noted that IBM is already becoming involved in rump Yugoslavia and has "the first requests for internet links there."

Van Wieren said inexpensive internet computers are especially important in the developing economies of central and eastern Europe where most households do not yet have a personal computer (PC).

He said: "PCs are too complicated and too costly" for eastern markets. IBM's future internet computers will cost "in the range" of 500 dollars. That's about 10 percent of the cost of a powerful PC that does similar tasks because many expensive PC parts won't be necessary.

Van Wieren explained that computer "processing power" of the network machines, and the computer programs that they use, will be contained in one central location controlled by IBM. He said users of internet computers will simply connect themselves to that central "backbone." They would even be able to play digital videos and music -- something that currently requires a personal computer costing thousands of dollars.

Other companies also are rushing to release trimmed down internet machines costing between 300 and 500 dollars. Ondrej Felix, the managing director in the Czech Republic for the international software firm Oracle, says his company will sell internet computers for about 500 dollars as early as this autumn.

But Felix admitted that the machines have one drawback -- "they are "nothing" without a connection to the internet.

He said: "You need to have a reliable network infrastructure in the country, so for eastern Europe, it all depends on how quickly these countries invest in their telecommunications infrastructure."

Other analysts say businesses already could use the machines in places like Prague, Warsaw, Budapest, Estonia, Moscow and St. Petersburg.

The Russian business magazine Delovye Lyudi (Business People) recently reported that about 20 international firms are delivering PC equipment to the Russian market. It says about 400,000 PCs were produced in Russia during 1995.

The magazine said that 813,000 PCs had been bought in Russia in 1994 and that the figure for 1995 was expected to be about one million. It says that at the beginning of 1992, only 934,000 PCs had been installed in the whole of the former Soviet Union.