Big Blue boss out of the fire...

THE newly appointed chairman of the troubled giant IBM, Mr Louis Gerstner, is probably still feeling his way around the furniture at the company's Armonk headquarters.

But if Mr Gerstner had thought he was going to get the customary 100 days to find his feet (as another American chief executive, Mr Bill Clinton, has enjoyed), then he has just been given a reality wake-up call.

A study of Fortune 1000 companies released in the US last week said American corporations were scaling back their use of IBM products in the wake of the company's difficulties.

The report, from Forrester Research of Cambridge, paints a grim short-term picture for IBM, which for so long had completely dominated the corporate MIS (management information system) market.

And the report's author and company director, Mr William Bluestein, doesn't expect that the IBM restructure to be straightforward enough to placate the nervous corporate customers.

Unlike AT & T's divestiture of the regional operating companies in the early 1980s, IBM's task is far more complex.

''Its product lines are diverse, nor can it be divided along simple geographies,'' Mr Bluestein said.

''To reconstruct a firm of this magnitude, new management must simultaneously cut , sell, fix, and reorganise the company.'' The report talks through three different strategy approaches for large IBM customers.

The first maintains that companies that don't need a quick pay-back from client/server, and value the more manageable environment of time-sharing which can ''ride out the storm with IBM''.

A second strategy targets accounts that want to be freed from proprietary systems without rushing into client/ server.

These users, according to Forrester, would need to rely on open systems from both IBM and other vendors.

The third option would see the customer giving IBM the heave-ho entirely, and then relying on client/server vendors such as Hewlett-Packard, Sun and Novell.

Just to add to the MIS managers' fun, the Forrester's report assures us that there is no safe route.

''Each option poses risks. Regardless of which one the users choose, accounts must get used to insecurity when they face IBM's break up.'' CHINA has been accused in the past of being soft on crimes involving intellectual property by some of its trading partners.

That may well be the case. But Beijing sure can't be accused of mollycoddling computer fraudsters.

According to the Associated Press, an official report issued on Monday said the first person convicted of embezzling funds by computer had been executed.

An accountant with the Agricultural Bank of China's Jilin branch in northeast China apparently embezzled US$193,000 by forging false deposit slips and hiding the originals, New China News Agency reported.

It is not clear how the computer was used, but the report said the crime came to light when there was an attempt made to remit part of the money to the just-over-the-border boom town of Shenzhen.