Thursday, Aug 22, 2002
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By Anand Parthasarathy
The Wintel machine as the Windows-with-Intel-chip PC is known, accounts for nine out of ten computers sold worldwide. But in what looked a foot in the door of a massive monopoly, leading U.S.-based PC maker, Dell Computers, announced last week that it would be offering a new series of corporate desktop machines in September, that would not have Windows or for that matter any other operating system pre installed.
A free operating system, FreeDOS is supplied along with the PC, but buyers have the option of discarding it and installing the system of their choice. Initially Dell will ship such empty PCs only to corporate customers who buy in multiples. It is nevertheless a radical departure from current practice where PC makers are obliged by their licensing arrangements with Microsoft and others, to pre-install an operating system in every PC sold. Dell also offers to install a software of the buyers' choice Windows or one of the versions of the Open system, Linux.
If the Dell move releases the PC desktop from Microsoft's leash, yesterdays news for the U.S. from Hewlett-Packard, may be one small step away from the dominance of the Intel processor. The company announced that under the brand name of Compaq (with whom it merged earlier this year) HP would sell the industry's first Business PC, powered by Athlon, a processor made by Intel's competitor Advanced Micro Devices (AMD). The Athlon chip, XP 2000+, will now power the Compaq Evo D 315 PC, aimed at medium-to-small businesses. While a number of PCs for home users are available with the cheaper AMD processors, this is the first time one of the world's big three PC makers IBM, HP and Dell has addressed the more demanding business and workstation market with an AMD chip-based machine. After introductory discounts the Compaq machine will cost around $550, making it something of a bargain for business users.
Expected Indian impact
Inevitably, these marketing shifts will impact the Indian PC scene in the coming months. At the equivalent of Rs. 27,000, the Compaq Evo PC in U.S. comes almost at the entry level price for a vanilla home PC in India. If HP chooses to directly market or assemble the machine in India for sale here, at similar prices, it will affect the entire price structure of business machines to the customer's advantage. Already, the Compaq-HP merger has notionally made it the number one hardware and system vendor in India (though analyses of the last fiscal year still treated the two as separate companies). Aggressive pricing like this, may well be part of HP's gameplan to become a global number one as well.
Dell, a relatively new entrant in India, is likely to find popular support if it extends the mix and match operating system option here. Many States in their educational and e-governance projects are attracted to the long term savings that a non-proprietary, open software environment offers. Dell may then emerge as the platform vendor best suited to providing an operating system-independent solution.
Indian buyers may also take heart from the recent shift away from current industry wisdom by the major American supermarket chain, Walmart, to offer $300 budget PCs that run the new Lindows operating system. This is a new software offering by a small startup company that allows the customer to run either Linux or Windows applications without having to install either system.
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