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David Strom is a networking and communications consultant based in Port Washington, NY. Along with Marshall Rose, he co-authored
Internet Messaging: From the Desktop to the Enterprise (Prentice Hall).

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Buy Internet service, get a free PC

Web Informant #129, 29 October 1998

      The prices of PCs keep getting cheaper and cheaper. I have been buying clones lately for less than $500, albeit refurbished and without Intel processors. And next week, IBM will start to sell a respectable Aptiva for $600 (they claim it is equivalent to a 300 MHz processor, although it runs at 225 MHz).

      While there is certainly a big difference in quality between a $500 PC and a $2000 PC, it isn't as much as you think. Enter the era of disposable PCs, where computers have certainly crossed over into the mainstream.

      Witness this week's announcement that all first and business class passengers on New Zealand Airlines can get a free Palm Pilot when they fly trans-Pacific in the next few months. Eventually, people will be giving away PCs as door prizes. What a good idea.

      So I have a radical notion: how about giving away a free PC for every two-year service contract when you sign up with an Internet Service Provider? To make this work, you would probably have to pay in advance of service, but it would certainly make customer retention a lot easier for ISPs.

      Cellular providers have long ago discovered this: they pay the phone distributors some money to discount the phone when they sign a customer up for a long-term service contract. Eventually, if the customer sticks around long enough and pays his monthly bills, the provider makes back this investment. So why can't we apply the same model to ISPs?

      ISPs are looking to differentiate themselves these days. You, the buying public, are looking to pick up a new PC, perhaps for the kids or to replace some aging 486 that you have expanded to its limits. It is a perfect combination, and the time is ripe.

      Lately, Compaq, Gateway, and other vendors have gotten this model all backwards: they will sell you ISP contracts when you buy the PC. Why is this wrong? Because PCs, not ISPs, have become commodities. I want a specific ISP that will meet my needs: be reliable, answer the phone when I have trouble, and maintain my cyberspace identity. That is a lot to ask for, especially as domain names are now legal battlefields.

      PCs, on the other hand, are pretty much interchangeable. To prove it I will sponsor a contest. I'll give away $100 to the first person who can configure the cheapest PC.

      Here are my components:

      The system should be at a minimum run a 200 MHz Pentium-class processor and have at least 32 MB RAM, a one gigabyte or larger hard drive, and a one megabyte or better video card. It should come with a CD-ROM, sound card and speakers, and keyboard and a mouse.

      Don't include a monitor or any bundled software, and don't include shipping or sales tax if the vendor intends to charge for it. Also, there is no need to include modems or printers for this contest.

      Here are the rules:

  1. Prices have to be published on the web or in various computer trade magazines. I reserve the right to reject orders based on obscure or non-existent prices.
  2. The equipment has to be in stock. None of this J&R bait­and­switch stuff. If I call up to check on an item, it has to really exist. A good way to determine if something is in stock is to say you want to purchase five or more units.
  3. No stolen parts, auctions, prizes or grey-market deals, please.
  4. Systems can be refurbished or surplus, come already assembled, or for some special mention, be a list of parts that you can assemble yourself from various sources.
  5. Entries will be accepted until November 15, via email only. All entries become the property of Web Informant, and we reserve the right to include your name and email address when we award the prize.

      P.S. WE HAVE A WINNER! Paul Romero configured the following system:

  1. 200Mhz 6x86MX­PR200 Cyrx $43+$9s = $52
  2. Digital Audio capable sound card with Mitsumi 4x CD-ROM Drive, 101-Key Keyboard, Serial Mouse, 1.44MB Floppy Drive, and an AT form factor Mini­Tower case, 60W amplified speakers and 1MB S3 TRIO PCI Video Card. From the Computer Geeks $149+$9s = $158
  3. 1.2GB "BigFoot" HDD $65+$9s = $74
  4. CPU FAN & HeatSink typically = $7
  5. Extra 16MB RAM from Onsale $21+9s = $30
Total Cost: $321 (Even including the shipping and handling fees, this was still by far the lowest entry we received!)

 Copyright © 1999, 2000 media.org.

      Web Informant copyright 1999 by David Strom, Inc., reprinted by permission
Web Informant is ® registered trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.
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