Silicon Valley Braces For A War Of The Pens

Ready for the next big battle in computerdom? Forget microchips, mice, and multimedia. This time, the fight is going to be over pens--pen-based computers, that is. Two companies are set to wage a war for control of what they think may be the next big leap in personal computing: systems that let computer owners use an electronic stylus or pen to handwrite data into PCs instead of typing it. Software powerhouse Microsoft Corp. will be pushing one software program for "pen-top" computers and Go Corp., a startup in Foster City, Calif., is scheduled to announce its competing system to software developers on Jan. 22.

Go, which has licensed its Pen Point software to IBM, and Microsoft are both gearing their systems to white-collar workers who would like to avoid using a keyboard. Next month, Microsoft is scheduled to have its own software developers' conference to promote Pen Windows, a new program that will work with application programs written for its Windows graphics software. Grid Systems Corp., Fremont, Calif., which was among the first to market a pen-top system, intends to offer Microsoft's Pen Windows as well as Go's Pen Point option--at least until the market determines which is more popular. This is likely to be a drawn-out battle, since neither Pen Point nor Pen Windows is expected to ship until late this year or early 1992.