Barney's Rubble

The PC Blues

Doug Barney contemplates Microsoft's domination of PC design, its Passport technology and the new Acoona.com search engine.

Last month IBM threw in the towel after more than 20 years in the PC business by selling out to a Chinese firm for $1.75 billion. We've seen countless articles and lamentations, but they all miss the point. There is nothing left for a PC maker to do—even the original PC maker.

PC companies no longer innovate because they're not allowed to. Compatibility is king, which means Microsoft—not Dell or HP—defines what PCs can and cannot do. Don't believe me? Then you've never been to a WinHEC (Windows Hardware Engineering Conference) where Microsoft, a software vendor, lectures hardware makers on exactly how to design their PCs. The message is that if you don't do it Redmond's way, then you can forget about running Windows. If you don't think that PCs have become a pure commodity, shop for a desktop or laptop and compare specs—they're all as indistinguishable as an '80s boy band.

I'm not saying this is entirely bad. If I was running Microsoft, I'd do the same thing. Its strong-arm tactics result in reliable, compatible, interchangeable computers—PCs that actually work. I'd just hate to be a PC designer who has to wear those creative handcuffs. Wonder what sort of PCs we'd have if Dell and HP engineers were given free reign?

In Praise of Passport
I don't often spend a lot of time contemplating Microsoft Passport, but trying to sign up my 8-year-old son Nick for free e-mail got me thinking. First, I tried Hotmail. It used to be easy, but now Hotmail wants your life story. If you don't fill in everything perfectly, you are rejected. After a couple of brutal failures, I gave Yahoo a shot. It was the same deal. Another rejection. Then, I decided to be loyal and go back to Microsoft's service. That's when I realized that however difficult Hotmail sign-up may be, you still walk away with a Passport account that helps with things like eBay.

I sign up for white papers and special content almost every day and labor through field after field every time. If something like Passport could give the content provider the information it needs and only require that I enter a user name and password, life would be far simpler.

Pitchman Bill Clinton
Former President William Jefferson Clinton lent his support to a new search engine company run by former Compaq chief Eckhard Pfeiffer. The company claims its Accoona.com is vastly superior to Google because it uses artificial intelligence.

Accoona has a bit more work to do if my "Monica Lewinsky" search is any indication. Included in its top 10 results were pages about UFOs and Rod Stewart. The AI-free Google hit the mark with nearly 300,000 pages, most of which actually seemed to have something to do with Monica.

As always, e-mail me with comments and suggestions.

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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