Make sure it all adds up

Luckily, buying information technology is more subject to logic than buying stock in
computer and software companies. I don't own Oracle stock, but I know.

In the market aftermath--when it's common to view with suspicion everything up to and
including the color of a company's wallpaper--observers questioned Oracle's network
computer strategy. Some pundits consider network computing, as Ellison defines it, dead on
arrival. Others think it's a good idea but note that an IP server infrastructure just
isn't in place widely enough, the Internet notwithstanding.

No matter what sparked it, the question of what a low-cost-per-seat computer is going
to look like in the next few years is important. Agencies are going to have to reach a
better understanding of the total cost of ownership of competing technologies if they're
to make any sense of the so-called seat management, or desktop PC leasing, options
available. It's like cars: If you don't know and understand all the numbers, you can't
tell whether you should lease or buy that leather-lined Melmouth.

Besides, there is an enduring phenomenon in the computer industry that the network
computer crowd seems to overlook. Namely, the existing technology that's supposed to be
toppled--in this case, the desktop PC with Intel Corp. chips and Microsoft Corp.
software--also undergoes constant refinement. It, too, becomes cheaper yet more
functional, spoiling the neat equations that showed it to be uneconomical. The same
phenomenon lets the IBM MVS environment continue to thrive and gasoline engines to rule in
cars. It is the competitive stimulus that forces the phenomenon.

The latest evidence takes the form of two fast-breaking developments in PCs. First is
the less-than-$1,000 machine, such as the PC 3010 from Digital Equipment Corp. Digital has
vowed to make a profit at that price point. Second is built-in manageability, once found
only on servers and now filtering down to client machines from a variety of makers. The
more centrally you can manage PCs, the less costly it is to own them.

Stock prices are ruled in large measure by emotion. Your computing choices should be
dictated by basic arithmetic.

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