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What AST didn't want you to know

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This article was first published in February 1998 Three weeks ago, I learned that AST was about to scrap its desktop and server product lines in Europe. The stricken vendor also planned to fire up to 60 per cent of staff at its European headquarters, I heard. Not having much use for scoops these days (I'm a columnist, don't you know), I passed the details on to a reporter of a more investigative persuasion. So why did the story not appear any earlier? It had something to do with the fact that AST threatened an injunction against the reporter to prevent the story being published. A small piece forecasting some job cuts provoked an AST letter bandying words such as 'defamatory'. AST achieved its purpose with its blustering tactics - the story on desktop and servers was not written until AST had lifted threats of legal action and was ready to speak. You may have gathered that AST is not exactly flavour of the month, either with me or with many other journalists who write about the computer industry. But I am, of course, far too professional to let any thoughts of personal animosity sway any assessment of the company. AST's auto-destruction in the European desktop and server sectors marks the demise of a once nearly great PC manufacturer. The company is also firing 300 people from its assembly plant in Limerick, Ireland. Fortunately, Dell is hiring 2,500 more staff for its plant in the area. AST is now effectively reduced to being an OEM outlet for Samsung components, which make up 65 per cent of AST Ascentia notebooks - also designed by Samsung. In a letter to resellers and distributors obtained by PC Dealer, Con Mallon, AST European marketing director, said: 'AST is confident that a stronger notebook-focused organisation will secure it a long-term future in the European notebook market.' Samsung has been an indulgent parent, injecting more than $700 million into its loss-making subsidiary. Now the Korean currency crisis means 'can't pay, won't pay'. But Samsung can offer AST core technology and reliable build quality. By all accounts, the Samsung-sourced AST Ascentia M is a product with plenty of features. In years past, AST notebooks have been of variable quality - quite understandable as many models were OEM'd. With Samsung's support, AST should have a strong competitive advantage. But the withdrawal from the desktop and server markets may cause collateral damage to the AST brand for notebooks. It will only have itself to blame if it fails to persuade customers its notebook business is here to stay. AST will no doubt go into marketing overdrive to reassure the corporate market. Typically, such initiatives include getting the message across to the press. But AST may find that some UK computer journalists are less than interested in listening to what the company has to say. ®

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