TransQuest - the IT arm of Delta Airlines - is placing more confidence in NCR as the once-ailing company's fortunes improve. NCR was struggling even before AT & T took over in 1991. After the United States telecommunications giant took the reins, the firm continued to lose money, posting a US$750 million loss in 1995. TransQuest chief executive William Belew said six months ago he was unwilling to take the chance of buying too many NCR products, spreading his Unix platforms to IBM, Digital, Sun and Hewlett-Packard. 'NCR equipment now completely dominates our application servers,' he said. TransQuest is one of the first customers to test NCR's WorldMark 4300 server, a mid-range departmental model running an Intel-based eight-CPU processor for either Unix or Windows NT computing. An analyst for the market research firm IDC, Richard Ryder, said the 4300 was NCR's first real shot at competitors such as Hewlett-Packard and DEC since the AT & T takeover. 'The 4300 is not the first with NT and Unix inter-operability, but it has good availability features, which I take to mean it does not break down often. That will help them penetrate market share,' he said. 'NCR is number one in the medium Unix market, but that is a pretty small market on the whole. NCR is a relatively small fish in Asia, but the company is going to reach profitability and compete well in its chosen markets of data warehousing and high availability transaction processing. It still has a lot to prove against Hewlett-Packard and DEC.' Mr Belew said the 4300 worked well in defining his bottom line. 'We can have a cost-benefit analysis more appropriate to the level we have to use. We can have a more incremental approach to growing our business.' The 4300 server begins at $17,500 for a single-processor system and runs close to $100,000 for four. Using a proprietary technology called OctaSCALE, NCR has enabled Intel's four-way motherboard to scale up to eight with what it claims is full transparency to the operating system. NCR resells the technology back to Microsoft for porting to other systems and Intel is in close discussions to investigate a partnership deal with NCR to adopt the technology. NCR, however, has had to work with Microsoft and Intel to come up with its technology. Unlike Sun's strategy of excluding Microsoft from the higher end, NCR adopted Intel technology to compete with larger Unix systems run on RISC chips in the early 1990s. NCR's senior account consultant, Jim Bloom, said Microsoft's dominance in the market helped NCR. 'If you're going up against Microsoft, it's very bad, but if you're building on top of their operating system, it's great,' he said. 'You only have to plot standards to one port, with maybe slight tweaking for different vendors. 'In that sense, we like the idea of Microsoft as a monopoly as long as they don't play in our space.' Mr Belew said he would change his OS/2 and Novell systems to Windows NT in the future. 'I personally have fears [about Microsoft dominating the industry] because of some of the limitations I saw with the mainframe ruled by IBM,' he said. 'IBM's customer base was so huge it couldn't move quickly. I would wait a year or longer. There was endless testing to get to the point of readiness. 'The main competition to NT is Unix. We would move more towards Unix if we saw Microsoft becoming too proprietary.' NCR's director of marketing for WorldMark, Kevin Libert, said many businesses were reluctant to jump into NT technology for critical applications. 'We are in the business of investment protection,' he said.