Omens Abound as PC Turns 25

Opinion: Dell stumbled recently, but the PC industry's future looks bright.

In August 1981, IBM introduced the IBM 5150, ushering in the corporate personal computing age. This month has seen lots of nostalgic recaps of favorite PCs. Ive seen too many lists outlining the top 25 PCs (Apple seems to win a lot of these), rambling memories of lugging Compaq computers along airport corridors and tributes to industry founders (Adam Osborne and Gary Kildall) who are now gone. But breaking news has a way of interrupting even the most nostalgic events, and the news last week was not good for the industry, at least not for one big company based in Round Rock, Texas.

In a milestone Im sure the company would much rather have avoided, Dell announced it will be recalling 4.1 million computer notebook batteries, the largest electronics-related action involving the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The recall was prompted by reports, including one graphic video, of laptops bursting into flames. Dell didnt make the batteries—those came from Sony—but if you are going to build your business by being an assembler of other vendors parts, you have to bear all responsibility.

/zimages/5/28571.gifWill Dells rep suffer from this massive recall? Click here to read more.

But, wait, theres more. In a story that got much less attention, last week also marked a low point for Dell in China, where the company had to offer an apology and a refund to customers regarding what the company was offering in its advertising compared with what customers were receiving.

Customers thought they were buying notebooks with Intels T2300 processor but instead were getting the less expensive T2300E processor, which does not support Intels Virtualization Technology. Not a good week for Dell, which has recently found itself reacting rather than leading, as Hewlett-Packard, Toshiba and Lenovo Group seem to have found their momentum.

But a leaders stumbles do not necessarily mean a 25-year-old business is showing its age. The impetus that gave rise to the PC industry was the ability to quickly put innovation in the hands of the user community. Despite the stumbles at Dell, there were three events last week that make me think the next 25 years will be as vibrant as the past quarter century.

The first event was at LinuxWorld, where Lenovo announced it will be preloading Novells SUSE Linux onto the ThinkPad T60p. This edition of Linux (SUSE Linux Enterprise Desktop 10, or SLED) won accolades from eWEEK Labs Advanced Technologies Analyst Jason Brooks. This combination of a solid Linux operating system and support from a major PC vendor has been a long time coming.

/zimages/5/28571.gifRead more here about Lenovos ThinkPad plan.

The delay in Microsofts Vista operating system and the continuous security patches, coupled with the maturity of the Linux operating system, have to make Linux a strong alternative to the Wintel duopoly. If the past 25 years for the corporate PC was largely the story of computer vendors bowing to the demands of Intel and Microsoft, the next 25 years will see lots of alternatives, including Linux, Apple and virtual systems unaware of the underlying operating system.

The second event was an e-mail exchange with Mary Lou Jepsen, the executive in charge of developing the display for the One Laptop per Child program. Jepsen, who has a long record in display technology, claims to have developed a display that has higher resolution than 95 percent of the laptop displays on the market today, at approximately one-seventh the power consumption and one-third the price. Ill be writing more about this, but a display with those attributes would be a major innovation that would reset the stage for laptop vendors.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read this interview.

The third event was a demonstration of the 3.0 product from the execs at Safend. Theyve upgraded their USB port lockdown technology to be able to detect keylogging, set detailed control levels for port access and manage encryption across attached devices. These innovations should have been coming from the computer vendors, but I think those vendors were too busy looking back at the past rather than forward to the next 25 years.

Editorial Director Eric Lundquist can be reached at

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