March 28, 1996

Sony Plans to Develop New Operating System


TOKYO -- In what would be an audacious move for a Japanese company, Sony Corp. is planning to develop a new software operating system, officials said Wednesday. Such operating systems, the fundamental software controlling computers and some other electronic machines, have been dominated by U.S. companies.

The officials said Sony did not intend to compete directly with Microsoft Corp. in personal computer operating systems, but was aiming at the expected market for products that combine computing with audio, video and networking capabilities.

"We would like to develop an operating system that is ideally suited for audiovisual applications," Nobuyuki Idei, Sony's president, said at a news conference called to discuss changes in Sony's corporate structure announced in January.

Minoru Morio, Sony's executive deputy president and chief technology officer, said, "As the PC merges with traditional audiovisual products, the office-oriented operating system is not necessarily the best one." The Internet will also provide opportunities for new operating systems, executives said.

Sony is entering the personal computer market in the fall, with help from Intel Corp. Its first machines will be fairly standard and will use Microsoft's operating system, but the company hopes to introduce more innovative machines, with rich audio and video capabilities, early next year.

Sony officials did not give details of the operating system but it appeared that it might be based on Apertos, an operating system that Sony has been developing as a research project for several years.

Kunitake Ando, president of Sony's information technology company, said Sony wanted to market Apertos as quickly as possible and would make an announcement about that this year.

Apertos has a core that requires very little memory to store, which makes it suitable for consumer electronic devices. But other modules, known as objects, can be added over a network.

For instance, the basic software needed to reproduce high- quality sound can be downloaded to a computer or television set top box just when the consumer wants to receive a broadcast of a concert. Sony has said Apertos would be ideal for video on demand applications.

But Sony has its work cut out for it. Microsoft, Apple Computer and others are developing operating software for handling audio and video. Sun Microsystems' Java looks as if it will do what Sony hopes its system will do over networks.

Apertos was developed at Sony's Computer Science Laboratory, which is the company's attempt to duplicate, on a small scale, the free-wheeling atmosphere of Xerox Corp.'s Palo Alto Research Center, which originated many computer concepts. The Sony lab, with about 18 researchers, is free from many of the company's usual rules and hires people on a contract basis.

Japanese companies have long been frustrated that U.S. companies dominate two key pieces of computing -- microprocessors and operating system. A project called TRON, started in the 1980s by Tokyo University and Japanese companies to develop microprocessors and operating systems, did not come up with successful products.

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