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  1.    #1  
    With the rapid decline of PC sales slowly draining the life-blood of this industry, I thought it might be interesting for all of us to share our musings on what future lies ahead for PC makers. Any opinions are welcome.

    Here are my thoughts:

    While I will concede that much of the sales slump is due to a slowing economy and lack of a need to “upgrade”, I think the underlying problems in this market lie much deeper. And there could be some rough times ahead.

    First, the PC itself is rapidly degrading into a boring commodity item. They just aren’t exciting anymore, and the designs themselves are ugly and uninspiring. Whether you agree or not, style and design DO matter now. Consumers are quickly moving away from the upgrade treadmill set down upon us by Microsoft and Intel, and are realizing that you don’t need the latest and greatest to do the most common tasks associated with desktop computing. The current trend in consumer demand is simpler, sleeker, smaller, and stylish, without sacrificing price/performance/expandability. Yet PC makers continue to churn out ugly, clunky, and outdated designs that no one wants anymore. It’s the sickening legacy of an aging PC culture that doesn’t reflect today’s consumer needs. Just look at Notebook systems, which are trending towards thin, lightweight and sexy designs that are very portable and easy to manage. We have yet to see such philosophy applied to desktop PC towers (with the exception of Apple). Dell in particular is the very symbol of this old school ideology. I have an old DELL Dimension PII 350 that I purchased over 3 years ago, and still to this day the design has not changed, only the name (it is now referred to as the 4100 series). Its almost sickening to look at the current crop of PC towers available, and even the lame attempts at creating stylish designs have yielded grotesque results, the Compaq Presario comes to mind. The industry is guilty of being to self-focused and introspective. These systems that we use in our day to day lives were not designed for consumers or enthusiasts, but rather IT departments with a need for manageability. In that environment, style is at the bottom of the list. After 20 years, the PC is still the same old beige box. Its more functional and powerful than ever thought possible, but has not matured beyond its basic shell, yet. Microsoft and Intel locked us into a never ending need for faster hardware for so long, that consumers are finally getting their fill of planned obsolesce. Dan Gillmor from The Mercury News wrote, in a recent article, a statement that sums this up perfectly: “Microsoft Corp. has sucked so much competition out of the marketplace that the most innovative work is going on outside desktop computing -- mainly on the network, where a new generation of Internet-based applications is the true source of innovation.”

    Second, I think there could be a drastic change taking shape in the nature of Personal Computing. A change that may no longer tether us to Microsoft and the PC. If the ASP model does become a success (I have my doubts), then it may not matter what platform or OS we use at all, whether it be Linux, BSD, MacOS X, Be, or Windows. Microsoft could become irrelevant, and I believe that the company’s .NET platform is nothing more than a doomed strategy to remain dominant in an environment that no longer requires their presence. This could become especially true if the software giant is broken up. Consumers will lose confidence in a divided Microsoft, and may look to other solid alternatives such as Linux and Apple. And internet appliances will slowly find their way into this scheme as well, but not in large numbers.

    On the other hand, just the opposite could happen as well. Microsoft has its hands in the cookie jars of several different devices including gaming consoles, PDAs, Cell Phones, and Automobile computing. There is the remote chance that these ventures could become increasing popular, leaving Microsoft at the core of technology, especially if the company is NOT divided.

    Overall, I think these compounded problems are going to get worse before they get better. But once these challenges are met, I think the PC industry will be changed in a profound and positive way. And the PC will be a much better platform as a result.

    [Edited by foo fighter on 01-15-2001 at 12:37 PM]
  2. #2  
    Originally posted by foo fighter
    Consumers are quickly moving away from the upgrade treadmill set down upon us by Microsoft and Intel, and are realizing that you don’t need the latest and greatest to do the most common tasks associated with desktop computing.
    The majority of users get along fine with their current system. There are people still using Win 3.1 for their basic wordprocessing, etc. Why would they need the current operating system which would require new hardware?
    Windows ME is touted by Microsoft to allow users full access to multimedia capabilities. However, there is a hardware hit entailed. For me, I will upgrade to Windows 2000 from 98SE rather than to ME. If I am going to have to deal with the pain of driver upgrades, etc for ME, why not just go directly to 2000.(I'm a Windows developer, so this makes sense for me.)
    If someone wants to get in on the multimedia bandwagon to use Digital Camera's,etc and email pictures to relatives, they would probably be better served with a MAC.

    Just look at Notebook systems, which are trending towards thin, lightweight and sexy designs that are very portable and easy to manage.
    The new Apple laptop!!!!!!!

    Because of my involvement with Windows development, my next PC will be a Notebook desktop replacement. These devices give all the capabilties of a desktop, plus portability as a plus.

    My feelings are that the next wave of computer devices will center on the "Appliance computer". Wireless, portable, easy to use, integration with handheld devices, on and on and on ...

    Look at the VisorPhone. Cell phone, Web Browser, and PIM all in one unit. Granted, it is bulky and limited in coverage area, but this is a first-generation device.

  3. #3  
    hmm.. the good ol'rehash of this discussion .. First off, your right, the latest and greatest PC's are not needed for most peoples computing needs (its very relivent in Apple's focus on video editing, something i feel is far outside of what normal people do on a regular basis) --- Given this simple fact, people are turning to alternate forms of computing devices (PDAs, mininotebooks, tablet PCs, cell phones, etc) for their daily requirements..

    Personally, for the majority of my personal computing needs, I could easily see doing it on the next generation of the PDAs .. People who like gaming but need general computing (internet, word processor, etc) could feesibly do it on an Xbox (its running off a W2K kernal already w/intel processor and has connectors which are basically a USB mod .. wouldn't be that hard to make a XBox keyboard/mouse/printer...) ----

    Then there is the Tablet PC which coupled with rock solid voice to text capabilities could easily be the device of choice for the majority of individuals .. easy to take with you, has a nice big screen for doing PC based stuff, etc..

    Does this kill the beige box as we know it? Nah ... ti will be around for years to come .. people who need power, expandability, etc that the PC has become known for will continue to buy them.. granted, the market for these devices will dimish as people get their computing power from the less power, more sleak devices, but there is enough room for both of them for years to come..
  4. #4  
    It could simply be that the PC market is no longer virgin territory, which is to say that the people are no longer buying their first PC today.

    If average consumers don't perceive the performance impact of an obsolete system, they'll stick to there current system. I just went to a used bookstore last week where the staff was looking up title listings on the internet with a Netscape Gold 2.0 browser(!) on what was ostensibly a 486.

    A computer is an appliance, and if it works for generic tasks -- word processing, internet, running Windows -- there's no compelling reason to spend several hundred dollars on an upgrade. Most people don't upgrade their stereos and microwave ovens every two years, despite technological advances in those appliances.

    As far as design paradigms are concerned, foo, you're right in citing Apple as an exception to the blandness of beige boxes. But I think where Apple's really onto something isn't design, per se, but in their trend to create computers that take less surface area. As SV real estate prices get larger and cubicles get smaller, desk space is at a premium, and products like the iMac and the Cube (which might've been a hit if it weren't overpriced, even by Apple standards) are steps in the right direction. I went to Fry's a couple of months ago and noticed that even many of the brand name PC towers available (e.g. HP, Sony) are less than 18" high and 12" deep. There seems to be a growing attitude that computers should be unseen, while keyboard and monitors are a necessary evil (flat screen LCD monitors being another part of the trend to take less surface area). Bluetooth will help rid us of the additional clutter of cables.

    In that context, I wonder if the emphasis on eye-catching design is warranted. I think that in the future, PCs will be less, not more, conspicuous.

    [Edited by Gameboy70 on 01-16-2001 at 12:06 AM]
  5.    #5  
    Originally posted by Gameboy70
    In that context, I wonder if the emphasis on eye-catching design is warranted. I think that in the future, PCs will be less, not more, conspicuous.
    I don't consider an IBM style black tower "conspicuous". PC vendors can easily create simple stylish designs that are tastefully done, and elegant. The PC may be an appliance type device, but that doesn't mean it has to look like my refrigerator! As I see it, sooner or later PC vendors will be forced to turn to design as a means of differentiating their products from each other. Right now, all PCs look very much alike, especially DELL, Gateway, and Micron. HP and Compaq have made some flailing attempts with the Pavilion and Presario, respectively. I don't know why OEMs will not simply bite the bullet and contract professional design firms, instead of using their own engineers to create new form factors and styles. It may save them money to eat their own dog food, but its going to cost them is consumer interest.

    The really sad part is, I'm not asking for much here. I could give a flying monkeys *** for blueberry or rainbow colored PCs. I'll take black, graphite, charcoal or whatever the hell you want to call it. But for Christ's sake, stop making beige computers!!!!!
  6. #6  
    I teach courses in an architectural college where every student (3rd to 5th year) is required to bring in their own high-end CAD (computer aided drawing) capable computer.

    We built industrial strength cabinets for each student to park and secure their PC in. Laptops are not recommended.

    We give the students a spec sheet showing the minimum configuration to buy. They can choose whatever vendor the wish to.

    This year's 3rd year students showed up with all sorts of Gateways, Dells, IBMs, home made PCs, etc. All were beige boxes. Some had prettier fronts.

    I surveyed them. "For what reason(s) did you purchase this particular computer?"

    The answers were, in order of greater frequency: Price, recommendation from friend or family member, package plusses (it came with a printer, scanner, and TONS of free software!), and service contract (a three year on-site contract is strongly preferred).

    No one even mentioned "looks". These are DESIGN students. Above all things they should be sensitive to details, and interested in how things look. Apparently, the PC is just a tool, and most assume "beige box" is THE choice.

    I suspect, however, that if in addition to needing to specify RAM, DRIVES, MONITOR SIZE, HD Capacity, CPU and Buss speed, etc., we had to pick from 20 different "stylish" cases, people would be overwhelmed. It's a major decision simply to choose between 15", 17", and 19" monitors. To also pick the COLOR would put most over the edge.

    The PC industry is what it is because it evolved that way. Only a fundimental change in how they are used will change how they look.

    I can wait.

    There is nothing yet made by man that cannot be improved upon.

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