Is This the Computer Age End Game?

Unlikely? A cyclic downturn perhaps, but when good times will return? My view is not in our lifetimes…at least not in the same vain as the computer industry experienced over the last 20 odd years. The recent Gartner survey on mobile phones vs desktop computers is extremely illustrative.At the root of this prediction are some basic observations about consumer IT spending.

1. Most people are not computer experts, quite a few might know how to get one working out of the box and make most of their programs
work but only a small minority are really proficient when it comes to computers.

2. For about 95% of the average computer consumer type applications, a pentium 3 running at somewhere between 300 and 1000mhz is virtually indistinguishable from the latest offerings from AMD or Intel. Apple actually recognise this fact and have adopted a radical OS change that virtually forces Mac users to abandon their old hardware. The merits of OSX can be debated ad naseum but the bottom line is very little has been added to OSX in terms of user applications and features over classic other than the eye candy factor.

3. Sitting down at a computer is not really fun for a lot of people. They do it for work purposes or to get something done for themselves.
In other words a lot of computer use is by nature utility use.

4. People see computers as computers. This is a pretty simple observation but the corollary is quite illustrative. Computers are
not TV’s, VCR’s, HiFi systems, telephone systems, or game consoles. This is not to say that computers can not perform these functions,
but the level of complexity a computer and program adds to perform these fundamental tasks relegates this sort of application to niche
markets (with the possible exception of games).

So where to from here?

Let’s assume that the so-called killer application doesn’t turn up tomorrow. The chances of even another Netscape are pretty unlikely
and domestic video on your desktop isn’t really going to set the world on fire for the simple reason that most people couldn’t be

Institutional pressure will result in a reasonable turnover in new machines, but this is not the engine that will drive the heady growth
of the past.

Will prices fall dramatically? Possibly, but most unlikely. Companies still have to make money and there is very little to be gained from a
prolonged period of retail losses.

Most likely is the sort of sideways shift that was recently highlighted by the AMD announcement. Hardware companies will shift
into devices that have computer parts, ie smart devices. And the potential for smart devices is considerable. If the trend towards
miniaturization and cost reduction continues, then mobile phones that browse and email and take photos WILL be in everyone’s hands in a
couple of years. Computers will continue to evolve but this is no longer the main game in town.

Winners and losers

No prize for guessing some of the obvious ones. Bill Gates’ company might make a pretty ordinary product but it has sold and sold and
sold. Quite likely the position of Windows on the desktop computer will never be usurped by virtue of Microsoft’s monopoly and the
weight of incumberance. In developing markets like China the situation may change by the simple expediency of the bottom line but
then again Microsoft could possibly afford to drop a billion or two now to secure a potential market the size of China.

The casualties are numerous, OS’s like Be and Amiga, hardware makers like Compaq,and the squillion of programmers that found out that
copyright doesn’t really protect the sanctity of an idea. Not to mention the number of people who handed over the big bucks to buy the
latest and greatest only to see a new machine out perform it and cost less 12 months later.

In an endgame situation players seek to position themselves for killer blow. As we sit on the cusp of the next phase of the IT
revolution, those companies and individuals that have weathered the massive write-downs in their stock values and retained large chunks
of cash and assets are in the box seat to cement their relative positions.

But what about Linux? Surely everyone will wake up and throw out their imperfect OS’s and embrace the penguin? As much as I wish it
might happen, the reality is that computers are less about OS’s and more about what is comfortable to Joe and Jane Public. Something
about the devil you know as opposed to the one you don’t. Apple might manage to convince some Windows buyers that getting Unix on your desktop is smart as well as sexy, but I don’t think Microsoft is terribly worried. The next generation of Windows might be more
difficult sell, but it isn’t going to change the numbers in the market overnight.

Will we be using Windows phones and playing Xbox games?

With luck, maybe not. Despite a very aggressive entrance into the game console market, Xbox has not usurped the position of
Playstation. Likewise Nokia is so far the leader in mobile phones and is most definitely not a MS product. To a certain extent these markets might be safe for the moment, but other evolving markets like TiVo and table PC’s are a different game. In the end, the Windows reputation for innovation and invention might be the biggest obstacle preventing the undisputable market leader from picking the likely next big thing.

About the Author:
I am a part time sys admin, ful time tech support officer, long time apple user. I have a background in television and electronic engineering and networking. The views I have expressed are mine although I confess to be influenced by what I see and read.


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