Air Force starts wheels turning on Desktop III

Richard A. Danca
Government Computer News

November 21, 1988

With the release of a 412-page request for proposals earlier this month, the Air Force has begun its search for the next generation of military microcomputers.

The new procurement, Desktop III, will differ in several ways from the current contract through which Zenith Data Systems supplies AT-compatible Z-248 computers. Differences include the requirement for two computers, 16-bit and 32-bit. The existing contract specifies a 16-bit computer.

Other new features include a 3 1/2-inch disk drive and a mouse as standard items and optional write one-read-many and read-only optical-disk storage systems. Also new is a requirement for a Posix-compliant, multiuser operating system. In addition, as in the previous contract, Desktop III specifies MS-DIS as a standard operating system.

The deadline for submitting bids is Dec. 7. Air Force officials at the Standard Systems Center at Gunter Air Force Base near Montgomery, Ala., have set an April 1989 date for their decision.

Both the 16-bit and 32-bit computers must run the latest version of MS-DOS and a Posix-compliant operation system. The RFP also requires computers and software that can work with the existing base of desktop and laptop machines and their MS-DOS programs.

Requirements for the two machines are similar. Both machines must have serial, parallel and mouse ports. Both also require appropriate versions of windowing software, integrated applications software, compilers and other software to run under both MS-DOS and the Posix-compliant operating system.

Desktop III's basic personal workstation will be a 16-bit machine with a minimum of 2M of memory, or enough memory to run simultaneously both MS-DOS and a windowing environment, plus whichever one of the specified application programs is largest.

The advanced personal workstation will be a 32-bit machine with a minimum of 4M of memory. Both machines must be expandable to 16M of memory.

Bidders proposing PC-compatibles for the basic workstation could bid an 80286-based machine, either an AT-compatible or a midrange PS/2 or compatible. As written, the RFP apparently would not exclude a bidder from proposing an Apple Computer Inc. Macintosh SE as the 16-bit machine, though it would require additional hardware or software to be able to run MS-DOS and its applications.

Computers that could meet the requirements for the advanced workstation include PC-compatible 80386-based machines, a Macintosh II or IIx or technical workstations from other manufacturers, including Digital Equipment Corp. and Sun Microsystems Inc., if they include methods of running MS-DOS.

The recently released Mac IIx has 3 1/2-inch drive that can read and write MS-DOS disks. Unconfirmed rumors have circulated that a Mac II with both 68020 and 80386 chips has been developed for this contract.

Though several computers meet the hardware requirements and the MS-DOS requirement is similar to that of previous large requirements contracts, the Posix requirement is new.

As specified in the Federal Information Processing Standard Publication 151, Posix is an interface between application programs and multitasking, multiuser operating systems that lets software run with few changes on different kinds of systems.

Only DEC has announced shipment of a Posix-compliant operating system, its Ultrix, a form of UNIX.

AT&T Co,, which developed and licenses UNIX, and its partner and partial subsidiary, Sun Microsystems Inc., have announced they will deliver Posix compatibility in 1989.

Microsoft Corp. and IBM corp., developers of OS/2, have said that they are developing a Posix-compliant version but have not announced a specific release date.

The RFP also seeks a large number of additional hardware and peripherals. These include fixed-position and removable hard disks in four capacities: 40M, 60M, 120, and 220M. Other options include dot-matrix and laser printers, optical scanners, facsimile boards and memory expansion boards.

The RFP requires computer-aided instruction courses, maintenance training, spare parts and manuals.

Desktop III will be a mandatory contract for its first two years and will be optional for up to three one-year extensions. It is meant to supply computers to the Air Force, Navy, Army, Defense Logistics Agency, Defense Communications Agency, Defense Mapping Agency-Defense Intelligence Agency and other Defense Department agencies.

COPYRIGHT 1988 Cahners Publishing Associates LP