PC State of the Union

HardwareCentral managing editor Eric Grevstad offers an amusing look at the current condition of the PC market from the viewpoint of the PC user.
Mr. Speaker, members of forums, honored guests, my fellow Americans and PC users worldwide: Our constitution decrees that the columnist shall from time to time give information on the state of the art, and I'm honored to continue this January tradition. I'd like to single out a special guest in the gallery -- that teenage geek from the Dell commercials, who will now be taken out and beaten.

Brief scuffle followed by applause.

My friends, I will not sugar-coat the facts: The state of our industry is not ideal. Global PC sales in 2001 decreased from the previous year, for only the second time ever and first since 1985. Here in the U.S., IDC says, sales fell more than 10 percent, with only Dell managing an increase -- thanks to low, low inventory and ditto, ditto prices, Dell now claims 28 of every 100 computer sales in our great nation.

Both Compaq's and IBM's PC shipments fell nearly 25 percent; HP's by 13 percent; beleaguered Gateway's by more than a third. IDC's "other" category still leads Dell in market share (36 percent), but recent increases in component prices are hurting the white-box desktop builders who drive that segment.

Business IT managers, their budgets slashed by recession, are changing their buying plans -- and instead of blaming 9/11, we must take the blame for our own success in pushing the PC envelope. The Vice President -- Charles Smulders, VP of the computing platforms group at Gartner Dataquest -- said yesterday, "Performance overdelivery on the PC platform is allowing existing users to postpone PC upgrades."

But my friends, performance overdelivery is no vice. Home PC sales rebounded over the holidays. With Windows XP, consumers finally have a truly stable and capable operating system, and its appetite for memory and other hardware makes it a better bargain to buy a new Win XP PC than to upgrade. Our forefathers never imagined a day when you could get a 1.2 or 1.3GHz system with 256MB of memory, a 40GB hard disk, and both DVD and CD-RW drives for $700. Now, that day is here.


But we must work together to maintain that growth. We must put old ways and hatreds behind us.

It's been sad to see members of the AMD party stew and sputter merely because Intel has continued the time-honored, back-and-forth cycle of speed records with its 2.2GHz Pentium 4. They scream, "Intel sucks! Its making and marketing a 2.2GHz processor is deceitful, because clock speed is irrelevant!" And then they contradict themselves -- "AMD rules! Just look at the Athlon XP's performance versus clock speed!"

I hold this office as an independent, and I say, if you're going to talk performance, talk performance, period -- how quickly a CPU completes the task in Photoshop or Office or whatever. By that measure, you'll find the Athlon XP 2000+ wins with a few tasks, but loses with others. Deal with it.

Speech continues over frenzied howls.

We must accept that that's not the same as talking price/performance, where AMD -- actually the 1900+, not its 67MHz-quicker sibling -- beats Intel like a gong. That, in turn, differs from discussing stable chipsets and sane cooling requirements, where Northwood opens up a can of whoopass.

Increased howling and chair-throwing from both sides of the aisle. Columnist is now talking only to himself.

Until that day when we see my vision of Paradise -- an AMD system with an Intel chipset -- we must put aside party differences and focus on true productivity ... under, of course, the thumb of the master who rules us all.

As you know, Lord Gates declared Tuesday that Microsoft must change its priorities as greatly as it did when discovering the Internet in 1995. For years, its programmers have endlessly added ever more frills and features, while leaving Windows, Internet Explorer, and Outlook with more holes than Blackburn, Lancashire.

But from now on, Gates told his troops in a widely leaked e-mail, "when we face a choice between adding features and resolving security issues, we need to choose security" -- the push to turn .Net into "Trustworthy Computing" is Job 1.

The 2002 tech recovery, my friends, will hinge on the attempt to reconcile this praiseworthy goal with Microsoft's business model of not only touting but increasingly trying to force users to pay for new features, as its notorious Licensing 6.0 plan does in pressuring companies to sign up for subscriptions instead of buying software once and using it as long as they like before choosing to upgrade.

If an upgrade adds no new features other than closing virus, worm, or hacker holes, can even Microsoft get away with charging extra for it? Or are we facing a conundrum even more contradictory than --

Masked ninjas appear and snatch columnist through trapdoor. Disappearance goes unnoticed as CPU flame wars continue.

Eric Grevstad is Hardware Central's managing editor. A former editor in chief of Home Office Computing and editor of Computer Shopper, he's been covering PCs and peripherals since leaving the liberal arts for TRS-80 and Apple II magazines in the early '80s.

This column was first published on HardwareCentral, an internet.com site.

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