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PC innovation is alive, thanks to hackers

Sometimes a headline just doesn't seem worth clicking on. For every one that reads "Woman kills herself so blind sons can see," there are two that state the obvious: "Barbara Bush says Hillary Clinton will lose in 2008" or "'Idol' eliminates another hopeful." (Wake me up when the First Lady says the former First Lady will be the first lady president, or when Fox determines that all the "American Idol" contestants are tone-deaf and should be bounced at once, instead of taking 16 weeks to determine the lesser evil.)

Into the latter category I would place this opinion piece by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates: "The PC era is just beginning," which was posted to BusinessWeek Online a few days ago. A man whose company and personal fortune is intertwined with the continued purchase of PCs is arguing that innovation is not dead? Shock.

Much of the column is a marketing-department history lesson about how the PC has changed the world ("Thanks to the PC, what once was a scarce and costly resource is now economical and ubiquitous." Couldn't the same be said for just about every technological advance, right back to the printing press?) After the rear-view look, Gates looks forward--and he tries to put the best spin on what has become a daunting problem for Microsoft.

"The threats of cybercrime, viruses and malware," he writes, "have sparked a new wave of innovation that's helping to make the computing ecosystem more secure." How would you react if General Motors claimed that its monthly recalls of the faulty door locks and troublesome seat belts on all its vehicles is evidence of the company's commitment to innovation? Might you consider buying a different car?

Gates' column was a rebuttal to a column that BusinessWeek published a couple months earlier, "Requiem for the corporate PC." In it, author Nicholas "IT Doesn't Matter Anymore" Carr argues that installing full-function PCs (you know, the ones that run Windows) is simply overkill for most corporations.

Besides being wasteful, "PCs often represent the biggest security hole in today's companies, a gateway for the evil-minded hacker and a repository of ready evidence for the litigious," Carr maintains.

So here's our choice: Hackers are another reason for companies to consider stripped-down networked devices, or they are the saviors of PC innovation. Of course, we can punt and take sides in a brewing controversy in Japan over whether modest sumo wrestlers should be allowed to wear shorts under their traditional mawashi.