COMDEX: Users not ready to ditch desktop PC

Non-PC devices are stealing the show, industry leaders are spouting off about the supremacy of Internet computing over clunky PCs, and Linus Torvalds and his open-source operating system, Linux, appear ready-for-prime-time.

On top of that, Microsoft is under pressure since a US federal court recently ruled that it is indeed a monopoly.

So, corporate users are going to be chucking their Windows-based desktops and switching to thin-client computers and Internet appliances real soon, right?

Wrong, say many users on the show floor here last week. At least, not yet.

In spite of the undeniable shift taking place in computing, for many companies and individual users, Microsoft and desktop PCs are still the only show in town.

"The PC is not going away, we refuse to let it," said Harold Chambers, purchasing coordinator with Atlanta, Georgia-based Columbia Chemicals. "It's a control thing."

IT managers and end users want to feel they have some control over the applications on the desktop, according to Chambers, who makes computer buying decisions for the 1500-man company. He professes little interest in moving to a model where his company would give users stripped-down devices that access applications via the Internet.

One end user, asked if she would want to remove her applications from the desktop, balked at the idea for the same reason.

"Ooh. That's a hard question," said Jeanette Meek, co-owner of Lucky Computer, a software retailer in California. "It's even hard for me to get rid of my bookmarks."

Control is but one of the issues that may make IT departments shy to abandon the client-server model of desktop PCs adopted by many corporations today. One related reason is company security. That's why Katun, a Minnesota-based distributor of materials for copiers and photo development, won't switch, said Barbara Ruff, the company's associate inventory manager.

Another reason is a lack of the appropriate infrastructure, said Todd McChurch, owner of Hightek Marketing, a maker of three-dimensional animation software based in Davenport, Iowa. McChurch sees too many technological limits in the US to make the Internet-based applications model attractive. Limited access to broadband services and unreliable Internet access are two such roadblocks, he said.

Interest in the open-source operating system, Linux, is running as high as it ever has at this show. Microsoft's Windows, however, is still the clear front-runner for the desktop, according to one analyst at Comdex.

Linux also fails to pose any serious threat to Microsoft's dominance on the desktop, as the open-source operating system vendor community is too fragmented, according to Baker.

However, Quyet Tran, an electrical engineer at IC developer Virtual Warpspeed, in Seattle, knows what he'd like to see in an alternative operating system.

"One that doesn't have so many bugs," Tran said. He suspects sloppy programming has led to the poor uptime of Windows operating systems. He is hoping to see an OS that would run for years without crashing. "The coding would be efficient enough so that it would be stable," Tran said.

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