Depending on who you work for, the amnesiac-like network computer is either the most heralded or most over-hyped development in desktop computing since the launch of Windows 95. With Apple Computer, Sun Microsystems, Netscape, IBM and Oracle all banding together to promote the notion of "network computing", the sheer marketing muscle and media coverage they command has ensured that the $US500 box is squarely in everyone's attention.
And while much of the speculation and vapourware about the future of personal computing centres on the applications and business models, what of the resellers? Common sense tells us that with vendors trying to cram the necessary functionality into a $US500 box, margins are likely to be minimal. With a network based infrastructure, what future will there be in the upgrade arena beyond increasing the size of the information pipe? Good news and a golden opportunity for network resellers perhaps, but a worry for others. Hard drives and memory are likely to be forgone. As for monitors, the proposed model is for network computers to plug into television sets, reducing the market for yet another product type. And what of software resellers - if applications are to be downloaded directly from service providers what is the future for anyone currently selling application software?
Indeed, some industry players have already suggested a possible path ahead lies not in moving the product through channels but in the services that can be provided post sale (see story page 46).
For the average reseller this means a shift that may be crippling for many, as they come to grips with the new model. Training costs and the redundancy in existing skillsets may end a number of careers.
But as long as the future of the network computer is still purely speculative, resellers can only sit and ponder what their futures may hold.