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Tech Industry

L'affaire PC

It must be a reflection on the state of Comdex that the best the honchos of top hardware and software companies can do is this declaration: We love our PCs.

It must be a reflection on the state of Comdex that the best the honchos of top hardware and software companies can do is this declaration: We love our PCs.

The bigger, faster, and smaller-but-better themes were prevalent as usual at the annual retreat. But there wasn't much else in the way of headline-making news.

So it was that Bill Gates and Eckhard Pfeiffer were tripping over themselves to prove whose love affair with the PC is more passionate. Gates went so far as to give every one of the 7,000 of who attended his keynote speech a T-shirt emblazoned with "I [heart] my PC." Pfeiffer, in his keynote, proclaimed that despite what Gates says, nobody loves the PC more than he, and promptly hurled a hat emblazoned with the same "I love my PC" slogan to no one in particular in the audience.

Both leaders, however, also said the PC has got to become easier to use before it can entice the average consumer.

In Pfeiffer's view, PCs costing $500 or less will be in the bedroom, while PC-TV "infotainment" consoles with wireless keyboards will sit in the living room or den. Tying all this together will be the home server, which will connect these devices through cable or wireless modems.

But he said: "The PC is too complex and imposing for many customers. For the market to keep growing, the PC has got to become more appliance-like." With great importance, he added, "The future of our industry will revolve around one thing--providing our customers with a fully satisfying ownership experience."

Microsoft, for its part, is chanting a new mantra: Simplicity.

And just as well. The need for simplicity was brought home when Gates introduced a new PC user, basketball great Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Abdul-Jabbar intended to take the audience on a tour of his newly created Web site, but the journey couldn't begin because he was clicking on the hyperlinks, when he should have been double-clicking on them.

Simplicity, indeed. Thank goodness Gates has mastered the art (or is it the science?) of double-clicking and was able to rescue him. But not to worry. Abdul-Jabbar, by some accounts, still loves his PC.

We do know one person who probably loves his PC but must be wondering why. Jerry Sanders, the chairman of chipmaker AMD, would no doubt love his PC even more, if only the PC makers would help him out. Sanders's problem is that no matter how hard he tries to woo the Dells, Compaqs, and Gateways, they remain smitten with the other chipmaker. They would much rather have Intel inside, and keep breaking this PC lover's heart.

So it was at Comdex '97. The more things change, the more they remain the same.