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Reborn Tadpole gets into corporate swim

Tadpole Computer marks its launch as an independent company by announcing its mobile Unix notebooks aren't just for soldiers and spies any more.

Tadpole Computer, a maker of portable Unix workstations, marked its launch as an independent company Monday by taking a new tack: Its hardware's not just for soldiers and spies any more.

The Cupertino, Calif.-based company was formed after executives at the U.S. unit of mobile workstation manufacturer Tadpole Technology bought out the hardware assets of the U.K.-based parent. At its official launch Monday, Tadpole Computer said it will use a low-price strategy to attract more customers in the aerospace, automotive and other large industries, beyond its traditional military and government markets.

"For years, we have been delivering the reliability, security...and high-performance computing that 64-bit Unix offers to military and government users, where it is required," Tadpole CEO Mark Johnston said in a statement. "Now, we are going to leverage our years of experience to bring these same features to the commercial space."

Workstations are normally heavy-duty desktop computers used, for example, by automakers for the mechanical design of products. Tadpole's SPARCbook portable workstations, which look similar to home or office laptops, pack the same hardware into a notebook chassis.

SPARCbooks, based on Sun Microsystems' UltraSPARC processors and Solaris operating system, have been purchased mostly by government agencies or by military divisions to help conduct operations. Tadpole lists the U.S. Army, the Central Intelligence Agency and large companies Cisco Systems and Raytheon among its customers.

But Tadpole believes that if the price is right, more businesses will want their engineers, designers and technical consultants to get mobile with one of its portable Unix workstations. Mobile workstations, the company says, can be used for a wide range of activities, such as taking an application like computer-aided design out of the office and into the field.

The least expensive SPARCbook, the SPARCbook 5000, costs about $6,000. Tadpole's new strategy hinges on delivering a line of less-expensive mobile workstations by the second quarter, the company said in a statement.

Tadpole doesn't plan on abandoning its traditional customers, however. It will continue to market high-end, high-dollar portable equipment to government and military clients.

When pursuing mobile workstation sales, Tadpole will likely go up against Dell Computer and IBM, which sell Intel-based mobile workstations with Intel Pentium 4 processors and Windows or Linux operating systems. But Tadpole is one of only a handful of notebook PC manufacturers that offer portable computers running Unix.

Tadpole says it is developing a new 1GHz or faster multiprocessor portable machine. The newly launched computer maker also sells Voyager, a line of portable servers, and a family of rack-mounted servers. Both are based on UltraSPARC processors and the Solaris operating system.