Aopen says its forthcoming line of customizable mobile computers will give resellers more flexibility to serve their corporate customers.

Called OpenBook, the white-box laptops are scheduled to enter the channel sometime this summer. Canadian distributors include Comtronic Computer Inc. (www.comtronic.ca) and AIC Systems Inc. (www.aicsys.com), both based in Markham, Ont.

Though specific configurations were unavailable at press time, AOpen said it plans to pre-configure everything in the notebooks except the hard drives, CD-ROM or CD-RW drives and memory.

Paul Su, president of AOpen America Inc. in San Jose, Calif., said the company will also offer the channel to brand the OpenBooks with their own company names or co-brand the products.

Brand has become an important issue at AOpen’s corporate parent, Acer America Inc., in the past year. The company in March launched a new corporate identity that removed the traditional diamond in its logo and introduced a vivid green color intended to represent “life, growth, prosperity and resiliency.” The design strategy underlies a more comprehensive effort by the organization to restructure and improve profitability. Earlier this year Acer reorganized into two operations Acer Brand Operation (ABO) and a Design and Manufacturing Service (DMS). The DMS will be very similar to Solectron or CSI, Su said, though in one area — R&D and development capability — he said it is stronger both. AOpen formed a joint development team with DMS to create the OpenBooks, Su added.

“Notebook products have a small footprint and a compact size,” he said. “It’s not going to be like a desktop where a VAR/reseller is able to build from the ground up. With a notebook, we have more concerns about the assembly quality.”

Su said Acer and Aopen’s new focus would prevent any confusion between its products for the consumer channel versus the corporate market.

“We don’t have any intention of selling this notebook into the consumer channel,” he said. “The VAR is not looking for the latest technology or the most advanced specifications. They are looking for more reliable, easy and best price-performance that are simple to maintain.”

The only exception — and Su didn’t consider it one — is the education market.

“We see a lot of students who prefer a notebook to the desktop because of its mobility,” he said, adding the company has a long-established relationship with Campus Retail Canada to supply product to about 35 major colleges and universities here. “Most students, instead of looking for the lightest, the coolest product, they want the best price-performance. They don’t care if it’s one or two pounds heavier.”

Aopen has indicated that if demand for OpenBooks requires it, the company could supply some product to resellers directly. But Su said it was more likely to stick with its core distributors. In Canada, for example, the company has been working with distributors like Comtronic and AIC for more than eight years.

“We’ve already built a close relationship with them. We know their strengths and they know our resources,” he said. “As long as they’re loyal to us, we’ll do anything for them.”

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