Managers learn the need for power isn't what it used to be

Thomas R. Temin

Without fanfare or even official pronouncement from the usual industry pundits, a milestone of sorts in desktop computing has been achieved.

It used to be axiomatic that software demands and the technical capability of PCs simply grew and grew, and that, from a functional standpoint, PCs required replacement far more frequently than a financially responsible, or legal, amortization schedule would allow.

Sufficient power

But a new model has replaced the hunger for ever more power, which once looked as if it would never abate. That model is simply this: Smart information technology managers apply only the amount of computing power they need per task, per user.

Today, the term personal computer encompasses as many species as the word vehicle. A Peterbilt tractor is a vehicle, and so is a New Beetle.

There are several reasons for this.

For one, the software bloat curve has leveled off, as inexpensive RAM and hard drives allow new computers to easily accommodate most applications.

For another, the Web-to-legacy-data model, which has succeeded the client-server model, has essentially brought many average users back to the terminal and terminal emulation days.

And there is the emergence of notebook PCs, handhelds and other small portable devices. Today, an office desktop is but one of many places where computing takes place.

You can spot this new model'the application of just-sufficient power'at work in many settings. The Navy, for example, is deploying Palm organizers from Palm Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif., for on-board logistics and support operations. When the Census Bureau bought notebook PCs for the most recent count, it bought trailing-edge machines running MS-DOS because its questionnaire software didn't need hotsy-totsy Pentium III machines, let alone Microsoft Windows 98.

Agencies buying or leasing PCs are more often differentiating their users and buying only what's appropriate'if not individual by individual then according to the class of work or worker.

Administrative staff members never did need the same computers that scientists or engineers used, but the range of available products'which was smaller in days gone by'often meant they got close to the same thing anyhow.

Vendors are responding by building more variety into their product lines. The GCN Lab staff recently tested everything from prototype 1-GHz Pentium III and Athlon machines to so-called legacy-reduced client machines for the masses of workers.

The latter machines, from mainline companies such as Compaq Computer Corp., Hewlett-Packard Co. and Micron Electronics Inc. of Nampa, Idaho, are smaller, feature fewer ports than you find in standard PCs and, in some cases, have no writable medium.

The arrival of these types of computers reflects a demand in some cases for less rather than more. A one-size-fits-all model doesn't make any more sense for vendors than it does for their customers.

I'm not predicting the death of the PC. To the contrary, standard desktop PCs will be around for a long time, and their power will continue to increase. But nowadays you don't need to buy an 800-MHz vanilla box when a handheld will carry out the mission.

Thomas R. Temin

Editorial director


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