Flying kites during a storm to test whether lightning is an electrical phenomenon seems a rather ludicrous experiment today, but in Benjamin Franklin's day it was not so obvious.
And without his pioneering studies, Michael Faraday would have remained a bookbinder and Thomas Edison may have stuck to his records and moving pictures.
Instead, Edison developed the light bulb in 1879 and the modern electricity utility industry was born.
Nowadays, few people stare in dumb wonderment at electric lights. The only time we notice electricity is when some bright spark cuts through a mains cable or inclement weather knocks out the supply.
Finding candles and boiling water on the hob is fun for a while but, when it spoils an evening in front of UK Gold, it's very frustrating.
At one stage computers were as exciting as early electric street lamps, but today they are utility items.
So it is perhaps unsurprising that some IT brains are looking to see whether computing products and applications can be delivered using the same utility model as electricity.
Last year, Hewlett-Packard (HP) and Compaq announced utility computing models, where buyers pay monthly fees for products, web access and support.
HP's model, known as Extended Office, offers hardware with preloaded business, diagnostic and antivirus software on a rental basis, while the user receives support from HP via remote networking. Resellers can handle the billing and offer additional local services.
It will be interesting to see how HP's scheme develops with the addition of Compaq's resources, and how value-added resellers can benefit.
However, all eyes were on IBM last week after Sam Palmisano announced that the company intends to pump $10bn into the utility concept.
Although Palmisano stopped short of bringing a kite onto the stage, he claimed that the model could revolutionise the way vendors and resellers sell IT products.
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