To big applause, Intel unveils 'personal conferencing' PC program


WASHINGTON -- Proclaiming the birth of a new industry called "personal conferencing," Intel Corp., the dominant semiconductor company, unveiled a program yesterday that allows a group of people to hold a video phone call on their personal computers while working together on the same document.

Priced as low as $1,199, the ProShare VideoSystem 200 program is regarded as a potential breakthrough product. As the technology is refined and made less expensive, it could promote the spread of telecommuting -- a trend with implications for the economy and the environment.

"We think personal conferencing will be to the personal computer what the PC was to the computer industry," said Patrick Gelsinger, a vice president at Intel.

Telephone-company executives who were present for the announcement were equally upbeat, predicting that ProShare would create a vast new market for their services.

"What we witnessed today is history in the making," said Brian J. Baum, Intel project coordinator for Bell Atlantic Corp., which will help market the program.

Intel, based in Santa Clara, Calif., unveiled its ProShare software with an elaborate demonstration at the ComNet '94 trade show here. Members of the news media were invited to sit down at a PC and chat with an Intel staff member in Oregon while working together on designing their own press credentials. The staff member was clearly visible, with only slight lag time, in a small window that could be "dragged" to any spot on the PC screen.

The program is designed to work on any IBM-compatible PC, using Microsoft Corp.'s Windows version 3.1 or better, and will bring to the screen any program that can be run on such a computer, Mr. Gelsinger said. A version of ProShare for Apple's Macintosh is expected to be released late this year, he said.

Intel was joined at the unveiling by representatives of 27 other telecommunications and computer companies that plan to team up with Intel to create products or join in marketing strategies for the technology.

Among the partners Intel has signed up are AT&T; and four of the seven regional Bell companies, which are offering discounts on the video program's list price of $2,499 for their customers.

If Intel's "personal conferencing" lives up to its billing, it could allow more employees to work from home.

Pam Tucker, president of the Telecommuting Inc. consulting firm in Hunt Valley, said that establishing an affordable video link between home and office would help break down the resistance of traditionalist executives.

"It gives management the warm fuzzies that their employees are indeed sitting there working," she said.

Telecommuting is widely expected to boom as employers seek ways to comply with the Clean Air Act, which requires companies to take steps to reduce commuting in major metropolitan areas by 25 percent by 1996.

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