The much-touted Net PC was launched this week with a promise from prominent Essex businessman and kickboxer Colin 'Fingers' Harrison to wipe the smile off his detractors' faces.
'I've had it up to here with you lot giving me a hard time,' he said, in what those present took to be a reference to competitors such as Oracle, whose revolutionary network computer was also launched this week. Harrison added that if the criticism continued, he was in communication with many heavyweights in his industry who would 'see him alright'.
Since the shock announcement of Harrison's Net PC at last autumn's Thames Valley Computer Mart, his company Harrison Autos has revelled in unprecedented publicity in the computer and business press. This is especially significant seeing as a used car dealership has rarely excited so much interest from magazines usually more interested in technology.
Harrison Autos, or HA as it will subsequently be known, has little track record in the computer business, but Harrison feels this will not hold him back in the sophisticated 1990s computer business. He is, he says, well suited to the demands of the business. 'If people don't like my kit, I say stuff them,' he said. 'The only difference between me and the nancy boys from out West is that I'll admit it.'
With this product, HA aims to become the next Microsoft. 'This may come as some surprise to you idiots,' Harrison said at the press conference to launch the Net PC, 'but I always wanted $4 billion to spend. I feel that this may be the quickest way to achieve my aims.' But others doubt HA's credibility as a hardware supplier. 'The company just doesn't have the manufacturing capability,' said Ralph Bandana, an analyst based in San Jose. 'In fact,' he admitted, 'I've never heard of them.'
'Our Colin was always an ambitious lad, but I hope he's not going to bring all those computer bits in here,' said Mavis Harrison. 'It was the same when he decided to invent the unbreakable car aerial. I still haven't got all the bits of metal out of the carpet. Still, if it keeps him out of that gymnasium I'm happy. I don't like the women he brings home from there.'
Harrison bridled at the suggestion that as a car salesman, he was not qualified to sell computers for a living. 'I feel that is unfair. The history of the British computer business is full of people like me making more money than God and it's my turn now.'
At the launch, the much-derided Net PC was on display for an appreciative audience. Harrison denied that all he had were wooden mock-ups of his computer. 'Sure, they're made of wood,' said Harrison's financial director Andreas Stefanou, who is also proprietor of Andy's Timber, where the network PCs will be nailed together. 'But I think that is hardly surprising. How the hell do you expect us to make them out of metal and sell them as cheap as $500? You must be barmier than Colin.'
Critics from other companies have rounded on HA's lack of applications support. 'If Essex is to make it as the Slough of the East, we have to retain our credibility,' said Ernie 'Ecstasy' Boggs, who has been concentrating on supplying hardware for the mobile computer market. His 'Radio Computer' has been selling for prices between u5 and u50 from Boggs' lockup.
'So what if they look a bit like car radios,' he said. 'You tell me if the Net PC can get Chris Evans in the morning. And even if they are radios, they've still got electronics in them. You want to buy one or not? I can tell you quite categorically that everything in stock is a hot item right now.'
And Derek Wide of Romford's Wideboy Computers cavilled at the $500 price point. 'If he really wants to make a difference, then $500 is not cheap enough. Down here everything you see is 50p. Pick anything you want. Fifty pee. Alright, we're a bit short of computers right now, but there's a local boy who nicks car radios promised me a bit of action next week.'
Meanwhile, the best bargains in high-tech computer hardware are to be had down at Ilford market, where Honest Guv Auctions was knocking out a batch of Gameboys for just u1 each. Clutching at least 20 of the small computers, as well as a carriage clock and a somewhat fire-damaged teasmade, a corporate buyer, who asked not to be named, expressed a great interest in HA's Net PC.
'Having a wooden computer would certainly suit our support department, and we are, of course, always open to new ideas. But we will be sticking with Gameboys for the moment, because there's good application support, especially for senior management. Also, Sun has promised Java support for the Gameboy in the future, and that's good enough for us to commit to it.'
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