- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 6, 2001

The talking heads of the technology world toss out buzzwords like "dot-com," and "e-commerce," terms that have become imprinted in the American vocabulary. But not all of these phrases stick.

The latest catch phrase is "post-PC era," which refers to a time when personal computers will become obsolete as result of even newer technology.

Last year, IBM announced in a product release, "welcome to the Post-PC era." Sun Microsystems, Palm Inc. and other high-tech giants have been tossing out the phrase in advertisements. And technology publications are using the phrase in catchy articles like "Ten Trends for the Post-PC World."

But many technology analysts say the post-PC era will never really come.

"There's really no such thing as the post-PC era," said Bruce Kosrel, a senior analyst with Forrester Research in Stamford, Conn. "It's like saying the post-electricity era. When people use this term, they're referring to the post-PC-only era."

Others agreed.

"[Post-PC era] refers to an American phenomenon that is sort of faddism," said Roger Kay of the International Data Corp. "I think that if you look at [PC sales] numbers, you're looking at a market where there were more than 100 million units shipped last year. It's very much overstated, much like everything in our country is overstated."

But, industry analysts generally agree that someday soon PCs will share computing space with an army of different devices.

It is already starting to happen with handheld devices like Personal Data Assistants (PDAs) and digital phones allowing people to check e-mail and surf the Web. MP3 players allow music to be taken from a computer and played anywhere. Eventually, as broadband Internet connections increase, heavy graphics and video will be displayed on different devices, all part of yet another new trend called "distributed computing."

"In the so-called 'post-PC era,' the device and the content will be more suited to each other," Mr. Kosrel said.

One belief is that PCs will eventually act as a central unit with other devices acting as peripherals.

"That's sort of a Microsoft/Intel version," Mr. Kay said. "A PC can be the hub, but I don't think it has to be."

The battle for influence over computing's next step has led to some interesting moves by companies. Analysts say computing firms realize the value of the "post-PC" buzz, and are running with it.

"Buzz means a lot, and PDAs and things like that have buzz," Mr. Kay said. "PCs are seen as old hat," even if they aren't going anywhere soon.

Last April, eyebrows were raised when San Diego-based Gateway Computers and Sterling, Va.-based America Online announced production of a wireless device and service. Both companies shunned Microsoft, the world's largest software company, by choosing to install the operating system of one of Microsoft's chief competitors, Linux, on the device.

Meanwhile, television products like TiVo, which allows users to digitally record and pause live television, also uses Linux.

While some Microsoft critics said the Gateway/AOL pact indicated the software manufacturer would not be a major player in the post-PC era, technology analysts were more cautious.

"Microsoft has survived with other operating systems before," Mr. Kosrel said. "Now, will they be as dominant as they are now in the [so-called] 'post-PC era'? No. But they'll be in the top three. And on the business side, it doesn't look like they're being threatened."

At the same time, a host of young companies, many from this region, are trying to cash in on a world in which wireless phones, laptops and PDAs are becoming the norm.

Columbia, Md.-based WebOS, for instance, offers a system to allow access to applications by wireless phones and handheld devices.

Washington-based Swapdrive.com offers software applications to allow large files to be stored on the Internet, rather than on computer hard drives.

Companies are, in fact, expected to increase their average Web-based storage capacities by a factor of 10 over the next five years, and will increase the amount of their budget spent on such storage by 12 percent, according to Forrester Research.

Swapdrive.com CEO Marc Wallace said his 2-year-old company hopes to have a positive cash flow by the middle of this year, in part due to the increase in use of non-PC computing devices. But like Mr. Kosrel of Forrester, he said the term "post-PC era" is misleading.

"It kind of indicates the PC is dead," Mr. Wallace said. "It's certainly not dead, it's just that it's going to exist in a more complementary fashion."

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