FIRST PERSON: To PC or not to PC

There is something very sinister happening in the R&D backrooms of IT companies across the world. Whisperings in corridors, secret partnerships, emerging technologies, underground laboratories, thousands of hands and minds working across the world towards a single dastardly goal: the demise of the PC.

While plots against the PC have been apparent for some time, the recent slowing of the IT economy is helping to speed the process. Times of hardship often lead to a dramatic increase in scientific endeavour, and the global IT recession of the early 21st century will be no different from WWI and WWII in this respect.

After years of accelerating consumption, the market's ability to absorb newer flasher and more expensive IT toys is quickly receding. Developed countries are reaching PC saturation point, and without some massive changes to global economics (eg. debt concessions for developing countries), new markets will remain elusive.

The launch of the Apple iMac

was entirely symptomatic of this demise. Colour being the last marketing bastion of a technology in decline.

PC manufacturers are stuck between a rock and a hard place. In order to continue to sell the humble home PC, they will have to radically reduce their prices, or hit the highly fickle image market. Imagine the headaches for resellers if matching the d├ęcor were as important to the end user as memory or processing power.

With investment in manufacturing infrastructure running into the billions, significant price-cutting would spell the end of many large IT manufacturers, and savage channel margins.

Given their predicament, manufacturers will be looking for some creative ways to keep their product margins healthy.

The decade-long reign of the PC will come to a dramatic halt as companies begin to invest in more efficient, and affordable alternatives to the beige box.

Take the home PC for example. What does it do? Plays games, provides e-mail and communication tools, plays games, provides homework tools, plays games, offers basic account keeping facilities, plays games and provides users with access to a wealth of information and images from the privacy of their own home.

The question PC manufacturers and resellers need to ask themselves is "how can we provide the IT requirements of your average family at a reduced cost, and with a reduced spec?"

The key is approaching the market in terms of services rather than products.

Resellers don't sell a monitor, they sell the ability to view data processed through a CPU, and they don't sell a hard disk, they sell the ability to store software and data. Once the channel immerses itself in this concept, it can start to look for technologies that enable it to tap into the market. Rather than focus on what a PC is, they need to start looking at what a PC does.

The scaling down of the home PC will affect the provision of both software and hardware. Connectivity has the potential to replace most of what fits into the beige boxes that currently grace our lounge rooms, bedrooms, studies and so forth. Why buy your own hard disk when you can access readily scalable data storage and software solutions over the Internet? Why pay for a complete set of software solutions when you can specify your requirements and rent specific applications over the Internet on a per-use basis?

To a certain degree, the PC rental approach is a fairly unsophisticated example of a marketing model that will flourish in the brave new services environment. For an ongoing fee, the consumer has access to the services a PC facilitates. When they stop paying, they stop getting the services. If they want increased services, such as printing, graphics capabilities, scaled-up Internet access and so on, they pay more.

Ultimately, as the hardware and software associated with the provision of these services is scaled right back, the reseller should be looking for computing solutions that give them the opportunity to provide more specific services at a reduced cost.

And don't get too concerned about the anti-PC conspirators. Like the rest of us, they are just trying to figure out how to navigate the unknown waters of tomorrow's IT market.

Jeanne-Vida Douglas is features editor at ARN. Contact her at