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HP's Platt: PCs are "pretty crude"

Hewlett-Packard chief Lewis Platt calls into focus the obsolescence of the PC.

SAN FRANCISCO--Lewis Platt, chief executive of Hewlett-Packard, today talked about the obsolescence of the PC, which he described as "pretty crude."

"I'm not predicting the demise of the PC, but the PC is a pretty crude device, hard to use, and so 'general purpose' that very few of us use more than 5 percent of its capability," the Hewlett-Packard executive told a Business Week conference here. HP is one of the largest personal computer companies in the world.

"You'd be better off with an appliance that is cheaper, smaller, and does the special-purpose job [that you're] doing," he said.

Platt's comments See special report: 
When worlds collide are more evidence that computer companies are seriously rethinking the utility of this aging paradigm. His disclaimer notwithstanding, all the largest PC vendors are anticipating significant changes in personal computing as users have known it for more than a decade.

Rod Schrock, senior vice president in charge of Compaq?s consumer products division, also indicated in discussions with CNET at the Comdex computer show that he sees the same writing on the wall. Compaq is now looking at a number of specialized devices, he said, alluding to one kitchen appliance that could "handle personal finances, home shopping, and home video and voice mail." Prices would range from about $200 to below $1,000, he estimated.

"You're going to see a whole lot of experimentation," Schrock added.

Along with Dell, Compaq further envisions more specialized computer models, targeted at discrete markets. For instance, both have recently begun marketing some PC models essentially as feature-rich Internet terminals.

Platt's comments came after he painted an environment of "information utilities" in which people and companies will pay for data and services as needed, saying that a variety of digital devices could be used to access these information services.

He showed a handheld scanner called "CapShare," which he said can scan up to 50 pages and then move that information into any device that is infrared transfer-enabled.

"This can literally squirt the data into a phone or printer so you can fax or email a colleague and embed an image in it," he said.

"We think this is a kind of appliance that will become more popular," he continued. "Just as we have hundreds of specific-purpose electrical appliances in the world today, we will have hundreds of these appliances.

"You don't hear people complaining about lots of electrical appliances--I think we're headed toward that world [for digital appliances]," he said.

HP will supply processors to power the appliances but also the computers on the back end to host those services, Platt said. Later, the company will have the opportunity to build appliances to plug into the new information utilities.

"We see the Internet and Web as the first step toward an information utility or pervasive computing," Platt noted.

"It will be device-, location-, and user-independent," he added. "We think it's going to do for services--billing and commerce and others--what the Web has already done for data: Provide universal access."