With a titular nod to Apple's highly successful iMac, Compaq has announced iPaq, a US$499 PC that it claims will make it easier for corporate users to access the Internet. Apple's legal team has been successful in all its iMac suits recently (see "Judge protects iMac design"). The question is: will the Mac maker strike not on look-&-feel but on similarity of name only?

Compaq's iPaq represents the latest attempt by a major systems vendor to increase market share by offering low-cost devices that attach quickly and easily to the Internet, without the maintenance costs and overhead associated with traditional PCs.

iPaq, which Compaq is positioning as an Internet device, weighs 10 lbs and takes about 75 per cent less desktop space than standard commercial PCs, according to Compaq. The system is based on Intel's 500MHz Celeron chip and comes with 64MB of memory, a 4.3GB hard drive and a user-programmable keyboard. It supports Microsoft Windows 2000-based office applications.

"It's the right product at the right time," said Andrew Neff, an analyst at Bear, Stearns & Co. in New York. "Companies like reduced complexity and costs. The only question is whether Compaq will be able to execute."

The iPaq will be available in just four configurations, share components across models and ship directly to customers - all factors that allow Compaq to offer the products at less than $500, said Compaq CEO Michael Capellas. The iPaq will be available in mid-January, although Compaq is taking orders for the device immediately.

The iPaq certainly looks nothing like the iMac (see picture above). It has no built-in screen, and does not copy the iMac's award-winning translucent plastics. It is not known whether Apple will take legal offence at Compaq's iMac-soundalike name. Presently, the company is gaining ground in its battle to stop copycats from imitating the design of its popular, bubble-shaped iMac PC.

A US federal judge is prepared to issue a preliminary injunction by the end of this week barring Future Power Inc. and South Korean firms Daewoo Telecom and its parent company Daewoo Group from manufacturing and selling their E-Power personal computer because of its similarity to the iMac.

Apple filed a lawsuit in the US District Court in San Jose, California, against both companies in July of this year, alleging their E-Power PCs deliberately copied the iMac design.

The judge indicated Friday he agreed with Apple's complaint. "The court concludes that Apple has shown a probability of success on its argument that the release of the E-Power is likely to cause customer confusion," US District Judge Jeremy Fogel wrote Friday in a response to arguments submitted by both parties.

"There is evidence that the defendants intended to copy iMac's appearance," the judge wrote in his response. "Notwithstanding the subtle differences argued by the defendants, the appearance of the iMac and the E-Power are strikingly similar."

The judge noted Apple has spent US$100 million promoting the iMac in its advertising campaigns.

Apple brought similar lawsuits earlier this year in an effort to protect the iMac design from imitators. In August, the US vendor sued Sotec Co. in Japan. Apple won a preliminary injunction in September in Tokyo District Court preventing Sotec from manufacturing or distributing its eOne computers.

Apple also sued eMachines Inc. in the US District Court in San Jose in August on similar grounds.