Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Internet 'Viewers' Prepare to Do Battle in PC Market Stripped-Down Computing Device May Lure Those Seeking a Cheaper Way to Get On-Line

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Internet 'Viewers' Prepare to Do Battle in PC Market Stripped-Down Computing Device May Lure Those Seeking a Cheaper Way to Get On-Line

Article excerpt

SO you want to surf the Internet, but buying a $2,000 computer to do it sounds too expensive. Not to worry. All you need is an Internet "viewer."

For $200 to $500, manufacturers are gearing up to sell a stripped-down computing appliance that will make it easy for consumers to get on-line.

The new device represents a huge challenge for the personal-computer (PC) industry. After years of reinventing itself to conquer one market after another, the PC may not be able to repeat the magic in the push to create a low-cost Internet-access device.

"What we're talking about here is the emergence of a new market," says Bruce Lupatkin, director of research at Hambrecht & Quist in San Francisco. Eventually, such technology could find its way into many products. "In aggregate, I think they'll be bigger than the PC market."

Analysts expect the battle could start as early as this year, when the first Internet viewers hit store shelves. But it will take longer for the new devices to establish themselves.

"In two or three years you'll get an Internet device," says Frank Gens, senior vice president at International Data Corporation in Framingham, Mass. "On-line commerce is going to be such an important piece of the picture for the corporate world ... the banks, the insurance companies, the enterprising companies will be subsidizing this."

Just as cellular-telephone companies today give away phones so they can sell the service, Mr. Gens predicts, Internet companies will give away Internet viewers so they can get consumers on-line.

Not everyone believes the Internet viewer will succeed. If computer companies sell a bare-bones viewer that costs $500, consumers may well spend the extra $300 to buy a low-end but full-fledged PC, they say. Several analysts agree that $500 is too high to attract the general consumer. But build it cheaper, PC mavens warn, and the viewer won't do very much.

It may not have to, counters Raymond Smith, chief executive of Bell Atlantic Corp.

"We're seeing a huge base of customers who don't need - who don't want to pay for - a computer in their homes," he says. All they want is to surf the Internet and send and receive electronic mail. …

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