Changing times

At the moment, the fan is having a loud argument with the power supply. When they

both warm up, the fan quiets down. Otherwise the machine performs reliably. It's old
enough to have a 514-inch floppy drive. I'm on my third keyboard and second mouse.

Having stared at the Zenith logo for some time, it was with a touch of sadness that I
learned the Air Force ignominiously bumped the stalwart veteran of federal contracting
from the Desktop V contract-after the first year of the three-year contract.

Zenith Data Systems has been a government supplier since agencies first began using
microcomputer technology, principally through the Desktop series but also through other
contracts for portable computers. Even on Desktop V, ZDS was outselling its competitor
when company officials and the Air Force called it quits last month [GCN, May 16,
Page 1].

Have times changed? You bet. Desktop III didn't include Zenith Data Systems, and that
contract proved disastrous for the vendor that did win. In contrast to its latest action,
the Air Force stuck with its Desktop III vendor to the bitter end.

Through the years, ZDS hasn't always made the fastest or sexiest machines, but it made
reliable PCs that were popular with government users.

The PC market, while exploding, has gotten ever more cutthroat. Customers' delivery and
service expectations are more stringent. The federal procurement scene is different, too.
There are more buying vehicles, and big indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts
are less a guarantee for the winning vendor than they once were.

What's more, Zenith Data Systems has changed. It was acquired by a company specializing
in retail PCs for the home market that later merged with a unit of NEC Technologies to
form Packard Bell NEC Inc.

After the decision on Desktop V, Zenith officials said the company would concentrate on
blanket purchasing agreements and General Services Administration schedule sales. The Air
Force now has an 8(a) vendor to add to its other prime contractor, Hughes Data Systems.

Whatever the tribulations of any single vendor, the latest Desktop V action marks the
end of an era-for Zenith Data Systems and for government PC buyers.

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