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Gateway joins unusual PC push

Following the lead of Apple and Intel, the computer maker will offer PCs with newfangled designs next year.

LAS VEGAS--Heeding the advice of Intel, Gateway will offer PCs with newfangled designs next year in a move away from the typical white or beige box that typify desktop computer design.

Gateway will come out with a "modular" computer in the first part of next year, according to Jim Collas, senior vice president of product development and management at Gateway.

"We will bring out at least one cool desktop in 1999," Collas said. The PC, which goes by the codename of Chameleon, will "be differentiated by a lot of industrial design. It will be an ergonomically designed desktop."

Intel has been encouraging PC makers to come up with more innovative and appealing PCs designs ever since it became apparent that Apple Computer's curvy, translucent blue and white iMac was a hit.

"Sometimes what Apple does has an electrifying effect on the rest of us," Intel chairman Andy Grove told Time Magazine last month.

PC makers are hoping to put a jolt into sales of consumer PCs. Not only could unusual designs help a PC company differentiate its products, it could theoretically boost acceptance of the sometimes foreboding looking computer, which is hovering at under 50 percent market penetration right now.

Collas was relatively silent about what, exactly, will make Gateway's product different,

PC prototypes at Comdex
Intel is showing these PC prototypes at Comdex. Will Gateway's "Chameleon" PC also adopt unusual color schemes?
but indicated that an integrated flat-panel monitor may not be one direction they will go in. "It is one of the form factors that we are investigating, but they are [priced at] a premium," he said.

Gateway will not be the only one out in the beginning of the year with a zany looking computer. A number of Taiwanese vendors will show modular units at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, said Paul Otellini, executive vice president at Intel. By eliminating legacy technologies such as the ISA expansion slot and serial port connectors, PC makers are finding that the internal guts of their machines are much smaller. As a result, they can begin to innovate with the form factor, numerous Intel executives have said.

Dell may also get into the game. The removal of legacy technology will allow vendors to move from "The Chevy Truck of PCs" style that has been in vogue for a number of years, agrees Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Computer.

"The form factor is starting to change as you get away from the legacy technology," he said.

Dell would not commit to whether his company has plans for such a machine, but said that, in the future, greater differences will exist between a high-end PC and a low-end PC. Low-end PCs, he posited, may become fixed-function devices.

The push toward modularity will likely be a boon to Asian manufacturers. These companies have long-established experience in miniaturization and consumer electronics marketing. While it is unclear whether these companies will come out with products under their own names, it is almost certain that a number of low-end machines from U.S. manufactures will be designed and built by Asian companies. Most low-end machines from U.S. manufacturers, after all, are already being built by Taiwanese makers.

"The Taiwanese are really designing class-one machines these days," Otellini said. "There is a wonderful class of devices coming out this spring."

In addition to modular PCs, Gateway will expanding its YourWare offerings in 1999. The company wants to establish ongoing relationships for its customers, said Collas.

One way of doing that will be to expand the software, hardware and Internet connectivity options on YourWare. Gateway will also begin to offer more products from other vendors. The company will in the future concentrate on providing solutions which take a significant deal of the guesswork out of pursuing PC applications.

"[The PC market] will evolve from feeds and speeds into solutions," he said. "People ask, 'I saw someone do something with a digital camera, how do I do that?' We want to help customers join the computer revolution," Collas said.

One way to do this is expand the software, scanners, printers and cameras from other vendors it sells on its site.