The company can't match Apple or Sony for industrial design, but its low-key campaign has attracted a major customer: the U.S. government.
As individual customers, we often focus our attention on high-profile companies, the ones with the flashiest designs or coolest offerings. For large organizations, however, other considerations may outshine the flash of a marketing campaign or a high-profile halo product.
MPC Computers, formerly Micron Computers, has been quietly executing in the background through the market downturnand executing very well, by some reports. MPC success is tied not to a unique IDit clearly cant out-flash Apple, Sony or Toshibabut to one clear, marketable advantage: MPC has learned how to sell to the U.S. government. And, believe me, that is an art.
Years ago, IBM and other large vendors had special units that lived and breathed government accounts. With budget downturns and cutbacks, however, these units lost focus or went away entirely. By staying small and focused, Micron was able not only to maintain its government relationships but grow into the gaps left by the larger players.
After years of practice MPC is better able to clear regulatory hurdles, provide appropriate documentation and comply with the various obscure rules and regulations involved when a vendor does business with the U.S. government.
One of the companys most recent actions was to on-shore support in the face of an off-shoring trend. Governments, regardless of where they are, tend to favor companies that use local resources; while off-shoring may save money, having local resources should help a company close government business.
MPC was recently recognized at the Government Solutions Summit as both "Best Government Vendor" and "Best Channel Partner," which clearly recognizes and rewards its expertise in this area.
MPCs laptop lines reflect its government prowess: basic, solid, and configured to favor government specs which call out certain technologies by name and often favor price/performance over advanced features or unique software.
Its TransPort V2000 is a basic P4/Celeron station-to-station system with solid performance that trades off battery life, a full set of processor choices, and a graphics subsystem that can be matched to any memory spec from 8MB to 64MB. Government tends to lag on certain technologies, so you wont see a DVD recordable drive; but you will see a hard drive range from 20GB to 80GB. It weighs in at 8 pounds, which is about right for the class, and has a full port set that includes all of the legacy ports. (Getting government off of legacy ports has been very difficult.)
MPCs TransPort T2000 (cant help but think of the new California governor here!) is the most similar to the T-series IBM, which has also been favored by government accounts. It has a fingerprint reader for enhanced security. In addition, it can be configured with a 14- or 15-inch screen. (The 15-inch is the better value.) It also offers a choice between the new Intel P4 M and the Intel Celeron. (The P4 M is best if the user will need to be on battery life or has a need for better performance; the Celeron part is a strong value.) This system has a powerful 64MB ATI graphics solution and does add a DVD-RW option. (These are getting less expensive; however, the CD-RW or DVD/CD-RW combo drive should be the better values depending on need.) It offers the same hard drive range as the V2000, and it also has a full set of ports.
Finishing off the line is the X2000, which is similar to the V2000 but adds a fingerprint reader for security and the more balanced Pentium M processor. (Youll note MPC doesnt use the Centrino; government customers tend to specify networking options, and they remain unsure about the security of wireless notebooks.) The big performance difference is in the video subsystem, which is an ATI 900 Mobility Radeon with 32MB or 64MB of memory.
In the final accounting, MPCs solid products may fail to excite the average user; but to a government account, that is often a good thing.
Rob Enderle is the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a company specializing in emerging personal technology.
Rob Enderle Enderle Group 389 Photinia Lane San Jose, CA 95127