IBM consolidates laptop, desktop divisions

IBM Corp. will immediately consolidate the development, marketing and operations of its ThinkPad and NetVista lines of computers, forming a new group called the Personal Computing Devices Group, a company spokesman said Tuesday.

The move “makes perfect sense” as both lines of computers are based on Intel Corp. chips and there need not be two groups developing machines from the same base, said Ray Gorman, an IBM spokesperson. The consolidation is aimed at saving IBM money on the development, marketing and operations of both lines of computers, though there will be no layoffs resulting from the move, Gorman said.

IBM’s change reflects a shift in the market for portable computers, said Rob Enderle, a research fellow with Giga Information Group Inc., the company that recommended to IBM that it consolidate the two groups. Whereas in the early days of laptops, only a small segment of the larger computer buying populace were potential laptop customers, now “pretty much anybody is a potential customer for a mobile computer,” he said.

Not only was the move driven by the rise in potential laptop users but “by combining the two groups, IBM has a better chance of meeting the needs of people in the general base” of users, Enderle said.

However, meeting the needs of users is only one goal of the reorganization; boosting the NetVista line is another, according to Roger Kay, research manager at International Data Corp. (IDC and the IDG News Service are owned by the same parent company). Adding the successful ThinkPad team to the NetVista group is an attempt “to energize the NetVista line with the fire from the ThinkPad” team, he said.

The ThinkPad is IBM’s portable computer and the NetVista is the company’s line of desktops. One NetVista model, the A40, bridges some of the gaps between the laptop and desktop lines, and includes an LCD (liquid crystal display) screen, the type used in portables.

The A40, and its predecessors, were “mind (openers)” for IBM, Giga’s Enderle said, as the company was able to make, smaller, quieter, more efficient desktop computers by using laptop technology. IBM is trying to move back into technology leadership across its product lines, he said, adding that such energy-efficient computers might become more appealing in the wake of the power crisis in California.

A further convergence of technologies, such as sharing the same chip sets or video systems across both laptop and desktop models, is possible in the future, he said. IDC’s Kay agreed, saying that the “distinction between desktop and laptop is less important” now than ever. Both Giga’s Enderle and IBM’s Grossman, however, said that it was unlikely that the two lines would ever share the same motherboard.

The consolidation comes only two months after IBM reorganized server and printer groups and a week after rumors swirled that the company was ready to fold its Lotus Development Corp. software subsidiary into the company as well. The move should also put to rest, for the time being at least, rumors that had IBM spinning its PC business out into a separate company, Enderle said.

IBM, in Armonk, N.Y., can be reached at