A couple of our online news competitors this week are running a big story about Via Technologies, a Taiwanese PC manufacturer that is preparing to launch a new range of low-cost PCs that will be offered for as little as $250. I don't see this as a big story, and I'll give you two reasons why.
First, it's not news. Our sister publication, EE Times, wrote about this development in a story in February. (see http://www.digitaldivide.net/news/view.php?
HeadlineID=229). Although there's still nothing on its Web site, Via has been talking about the Terra PC architecture for months.
More importantly, the low-cost PC "for the home market" has never taken off in the U.S. Over the years, many vendors have offered cheap PCs, dating back to the Web PC of the late '90s, the "diskless workstation" of the early '90s, and even the old videotex terminals of the 1980s. All of these were offered at less than $300, but none of them ever generated many sales.
The reason for the lukewarm reaction to these "home market" PCs in the U.S. is simple: we don't make a separation between the home PC and the office PC in this country. We all use our home PCs to do work, and we use our office PCs to do personal stuff. Some even bring the same laptop from work to home and back again.
So the bottom line is this: most U.S. PC users won't buy any PC that can't handle their work applications, or at least get the blessing of the IT department. The Terra PC may be cheap, but it's too short on memory to be much more than an Internet terminal or a toy for the kids. Someday, we'll see $250 home machines that can do all of the things we need to do for work -- but it won't matter, because the IT department will have already installed them at the office.