- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Fans of certain comic books and one particular episode of the hit television sitcom “Seinfeld” will know about “bizzaro world,” a parallel universe in which up seems down and vice appears to be versa. There is a parallel universe opening up in the computer bisiness, too.

Is the sky falling? Hardly, but there seems to be void in the Windows-based computer industry. I don’t see the kinds of things happening that might be expected right now.

The launch of Microsoft’s Windows Vista operating system earlier this year was nice but no groundbreaker. There’s not been the kind of rush to Vista that many had hoped for, even if it’s practically the only kind of operating system you can get on that new system from the “big box” wholesale club or over at Best Buy.

I’ve just not seen the kind of jubilation that has attended earlier introductions of Windows versions, either in the stores, or from corporate boardrooms.

Vista is a very nice operating system, and it has performed well on the computers I’ve used that run it. However, it’s not really revolutionary, nor does it promise the kind of performance or convenience gain one would hope for in a major operating-system upgrade. That may be part of the reason for a lack of excitement.

Indeed, the companies that once dominated the PC business are having some problems, to say the least. IBM Corp. sold its PC hardware business to China-based Lenovo. That’s fair enough, given the once-Big Blue’s interest in software and services. Readers may recall, however, that it was IBM that invented the PC, so that departure stings just a bit.

Dell Inc. dropped its chief executive officer, Kevin Rollins, rather unceremoniously earlier this year. As with IBM shedding a business unit, such a decision is that of management, and shareholders can decide, via their proxies, whether it was wise or not.

At the same time, it should be noted that Dell is being rather stingy in providing review units of its computers: I’ve been promised something for more than a year, and yet, nothing’s arrived.

Their loaner fleet may be overtaxed, but I do wonder when a company does things like that. I wonder even more when I hear of the constant complaints of Dell users — co-workers at my last two day jobs have had about the systems they have to use.

While Hewlett Packard’s HP and Compaq brands are doing well — both nameplates appear on some very good machines these days, the firm seems to be alone in its field, which isn’t always an encouraging sign, in my view. It would be nice to see some other firms come and play in the same arena with the same level of quality. Where will all this leave the computer market? I don’t know, at present.

But it’s worth imagining that the graphical, solid, Unix-based and user-friendly Apple Macintosh OS X runs on the same processors most Windows PCs use. Some tweaking from Apple could “liberate” the OS to run on those computers.

A move like that would ignite some activity in the PC business, and pronto. And it would be interesting, not to mention ironic, to see Apple wake up the PC playground. The likelihood of that happening any time soon is slim, but those on the industry’s sidelines, dejected as Redskins fans in January, might yet cling to some hope.

c Read Mark Kellner’s tech blog at www.washingtontimes.com/blogs.