Gurus chant their mantra 'Evolution, not revolution' whenever they pronounce judgement on the PC market. I find this confusing - gurus are meant to be visionaries and make observations on a grander scale rather than be distracted by minutiae. The PC revolution has been happening for more than 20 years and its full impact is just beginning to be comprehended.
Consider the three most significant things that have shaped our lives this century - the telephone, the television and the motor car. All three have achieved a degree of ubiquity and pervasiveness that would belie their relative youth. The technologies that have shaped these items began 100 years ago and were rapidly adapted and developed. They have demonstrated the demand for products that bring functionality and benefit at the right price.
We in the PC community are instrumental in demonstrating the functionality and benefit of PCs to an ever-growing group. It's not always an easy task, largely because, unlike the telephone or television, the PC has no single core function.
The complex mix of hardware, firmware, software and communications makes the PC the domain of enthusiasts and entrepreneurs; I am an enthusiast.
This column does not set out to provide insight into channel management strategies or the opportunities for PC dealers this quarter - it is a simple outline of the reasons why people entered this business and why they remain.
The three most significant incidents to have occurred in my professional lifetime have been the first time I worked with a computer (a teletype with occasional dialup access), the first time I played network Doom with my colleagues after hours, and the first time I accessed the internet (at Heaven of all places).
Each of these events resulted in my excitement and total immersion in the power of what computers could actually do, not just the prevailing technology or the business of computers.
It has also been tremendously exciting and exhilarating to see a personal passion fall into the hands of others - people with their own visions and ideas as to the benefits of the platform.
The PC revolution has also had a huge impact on the computing infrastructure, tearing down the old monoliths of mainframe and mid-range markets and replacing them with monolithic platforms. Consider the market opportunity for an innovative non-Windows/non-X86 application or product - it exists, but the niche ranges from slim to disappearing. Standards are essential for the market to grow but the standard-bearers should not get complacent.
The PC revolution is far from over. Although we have achieved a great deal in the past 20 years, not every desk has a PC on it yet. Around a quarter of UK households have PCs (working and active, I hope) and almost a quarter of the UK population have encountered the internet (usually all at the same time, it seems). However, PCs still fail out of the box, only half the UK workforce use a PC regularly and most schools do not have the equipment or the funding to provide adequate access to each child.
Okay, I've waited this long - here's my beef. If the government invests a reasonable fraction of what is being spent on the Millennium Dome and related projects into the computing access and infrastructure of schools, libraries, hospitals and public areas, we would be in a better shape to face the social and business challenges before us. Okay, it's fairly obvious I am not detailing the plan or return on investment, but remember, I am the enthusiast and I am writing this column. Write your own.
There is no crystal ball that will reveal the true nature or extent of the PC revolution in the next 10 years, let alone the next century. Everything is possible and nothing is out of the question, it's just a matter of time and effort. The industry has, and still needs, visionaries who act on their own insight to drive the market out. Luckily for me, the industry needs enthusiasts just as much as it needs entrepreneurs. As a colleague once remarked: 'And I get paid to do this!'
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