IBM struts its Internet stuff

IBM has announced new products, services, and a network computer division at an Internet/intranet extravaganza in New York.

IBM has announced new products, services, and a network computer division at an Internet/intranet extravaganza in New York.

As expected, the company has announced a new network computer division, with the former general manager of IBM's AS/400 unit, Bob Dies, at the helm. Dies will report to Robert Stephenson, an IBM senior vice-president who oversees the computer giant's PC company.

To reinforce its commitment to the Internet -- and demonstrate its ability to produce cutting-edge technology -- IBM has showcased a range of Internet-related products.

Most notable was the Cyberphone. Weighing less than 0.5kg, this cellular phone includes a mirror panel that when attached to the Internet will offer users a small view into the Web and some selected applications.

By dialling a wireless connection to the Internet via the cellular phone's keypad, users can then navigate the Web with the small mouse pointer and buttons attached to the side of the phone. Users can also call up programs, such as email or calendaring, and make annotations by talking into the phone, thanks to voice-recognition software.

IBM has not yet decided what processor or operating system it will use in the Cyberphone -- the one being demonstrated was attached to a notebook PC that gave it computing power and Internet access. The company is showing the phone as a proof of concept design, saying that such a product will not come to market within the next six months.

IBM has also shown off its Net Casino/VR. This product uses avatars -- three-dimensional representations of a computer user in a virtual reality world -- to offer a walk-through of a Las Vegas-style casino, in which characters can interact and trade money. That demo will also be displayed at Comdex in Las Vegas next week.

The company has also detailed its electronic business strategy, unveiling vertical applications that it says will help spur the use of the Internet for business. In the coming year, IBM will focus on developing complete, custom Internet applications in the commerce, collaboration, and content management areas, officials say.

One application unveiled in New York, developed with Siemens Power Systems Control, is a service that allows utility companies to buy and sell electric power transmission capacity over the Internet and IBM's Global Network.

Another IBM industry-specific initiative is Insure-Commerce, a collection of tools and services designed to help insurance companies move into electronic commerce and extend their existing customer services via the Internet, company officials say. The company has also discussed PetroConnect, a Web site for the petroleum exploration industry.

IBM is at http://www.ibm.com/.

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