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Wireless handhelds will rule the day, PC execs predict

Top PC industry executives predict the death of the desktop computer as the leading method of accessing the Internet, saying a variety of wireless handheld devices will soon rule the day.

NEW ORLEANS--Top PC industry executives predicted the death of the desktop computer as the leading method of accessing the Internet, saying a variety of wireless handheld devices will soon rule the day instead.

Speaking in keynote addresses Sun COO Ed Zander this morning before the Cellular Telecommunications Industry Associations' Wireless 2000 conference, executives from Compaq Computer, one of the world's largest computer makers, and Sun Microsystems, a manufacturer of high-end corporate server computers, said they believe mobile phones, palm-sized computers and other similar devices will outpace personal computers for Net access.

"These devices will add a lot of traffic to the Net," said Jane Zweig, a wireless industry analyst at Herschel Shosteck Associates. "(The PC makers) will have to reinvent their businesses ultimately."

Herschel Shosteck Associates predicts there will be 126 million handheld computers and personal digital assistants by 2003.

"I believe most of the population throughout the world will not be using personal computers to get on the Net in a few years," said Edward Zander, Sun's president and chief operating officer. "They will use wireless-type devices to get on the Internet."

The proclamations, although tough to swallow for long-time PC industry stalwarts, should not come as a complete surprise. After all, the mere fact that Compaq, Sun, Microsoft and others like them are on hand at the wireless industry's annual trade show should serve as an indication of the growth of mobile Internet technologies. In addition, analysts say mobile phone handset sales already outpace personal computer sales, and many estimates show that more than 500 million Internet-ready cell phones will be in use worldwide in two or three years.

As a result, the PC industry firms have moved aggressively toward wireless technologies. Earlier this week Compaq CEO Michael Capellas Microsoft announced several wireless initiatives, including an updated version of its wireless portal. But the PC makers also are embracing the wireless industry and the market for so-called Net access devices. Hewlett Packard, for example, now offers a handheld Computer, and IBM today unveiled new software to customize Web content and images for handhelds.

"I don't think there's any question that the world of personal computers is evolving to a world of Internet access devices," said Compaq chief executive Michael Capellas. "More and more of those Internet access devices are in fact using wireless."

Capellas is such a firm believer in wireless technologies that he personally is testing Compaq's new wireless home local area networking products. He also showed a Windows CE-based handheld enabled to display Web content converted to the Wireless Application Protocol (WAP).

"I think we'll see wireless become the primary choice of high-speed connectivity," Capellas said.