-- Microsoft has decided to let everyone know how to build PCs the Microsoft way, a plan that could make just about all the desktop machines in your shop obsolete.
And if the PC design guidelines handed out recently are any guide, PCs will be dramatically different in a few years.
Want to see a movie, watch TV or listen to music? Forget consumer electronics -- just boot up your PC.
Need network access? Your PC will have broadband network support -- be it satellite, cable or digital subscriber line -- ready to go.
Want to connect to a LAN? The network interface card should already be inside the PC on a motherboard.
In addition, if hardware vendors follow the PC design guidelines for this year and next, hardware and software upgrades will be a snap, and PCs will elegantly split displays across as many as nine monitors.
This all sounds like it could cost customers a lot of money, but vendors have promised to keep prices down. A sub-$US1000 PC could have all these features and more, vendors claim.
One result of this technological smorgasbord would be a vastly larger PC market -- one that some observers say could total 500 million units in years to come. And with Microsoft plotting to make each and every one of these systems Internet and LAN ready, there could be a lot of new boxes for IS departments to handle. There also could be a lot of extra computers ready to hit your Web site.
Although neither Microsoft nor its ally Intel makes PCs, Microsoft said the firms have no intention of turning over the responsibility for setting PC design guidelines to PC makers. After all, Microsoft and Intel's ratcheting up of PC requirements helps Microsoft sell more bloated software and Intel sell faster chips, observers said.
Microsoft is pushing for standard consumer and corporate PCs as well as laptops to sport a minimum of 64MB of RAM, while PCs must also have at least a 300MHz Pentium II class processor with MMX and 256KB of Level 2 cache.