E Pluribus Unisys?

DETERMINED TO BREAK loose from its mainframe past, Unisys Corp. has formed a new subsidiary to attack the market for so-called client-server software. Funded with $50 million from its parent, the new unit, called USoft, plans to amass a collection of small companies offering software "tools" that will help customers design, build, and manage large applications running on networks of personal computers and servers.

Because they harness many computers, and may include various brands of hardware and software, client-server applications tend to be difficult to build. As client-server computing has taken off and is replacing mainframes, numerous companies have brought out software to help customers develop applications. But despite strong technology, many of these companies lack capital and distribution, which leaves them ripe for acquisition.

USoft's first buy was TopSystems International, based in Holland. TopSystems' software helps analysts describe a business process--order entry, for instance--and then automatically generates the software for desktop computers and servers. The Unisys subsidiary was attracted to TopSystems, which had revenues of about $10 million last year, because it had 250 customers--mostly in Europe. USoft expects to be profitable on revenues of about $30 million this year.