"Who Wants a Network PC?"


I've been reading the network computer stories for months, but it wasn't until I was at a conference in May that I realized how offbase most of us have been in trying to analyze them. We're all caught in the middle of a PC-centric web that prevents us from understanding the NC-paradigm beyond our internal hard drive.

During an NC-presentation, the speaker suggested that they were only good as 3270 replacements, and the audience agreed. Of course we did, because everyone in the audience is either a Mac, Windows, or Unix user. We live off of our PCs and what we develop; few of us would willingly swap. I also considered that our audience probably consisted exclusively people in the top 25% (probably even a smaller percentage than that) of American wealth, and I'm certain that everyone's income ranked in the 99th percentile worldwide. Face it: we're so "un-average" that we can barely comprehend what the "average person's" opinions are. The same goes for the business users whom periodicals such as PCWeek target.

On the other hand, my wife teaches English to children of immigrants in Houston. I believe that those families are closer to the median American status than we are. It strikes me that the NC isn't for us, it's for the more than 60% of American households who don't have any kind of PC. I don't see this group rushing to buy PCs; Windows and NT will never be easy enough for the average person to use (as long as there are INI and DLL files and registries to worry about), and even the cheapest Mac clones are several hundred dollars too expensive. When you see $300-$400 NCs that have an interface as easy as a Mac (or, even better, as easy as a TV with a remote control), that's when you'll see a surge of buyers.

Does that mean that the NC is irrelevant to the business readers of PCWeek? I don't believe that the promise of the NC is for IT-types like me or for the desktops of business. Business will have an interest in NCs when that majority of American households without a PC begins buying them, getting on the web, and looking for items to purchase. That's also when IT will get interested, because we'll be asked to write those Java applications and online databases to power those sites.

Chuck Hinkle has been programming microcomputers since 1977. He is the owner of CLH WAREs, a computer consulting firm that specializes in database analysis and development for the Macintosh and for Windows. You can Email Chuck with your comments or questions at chuckh@iapc.net or visit his website at http://web-hou.iapc.net/~chuckh/.