Nat Semi CEO proposes giveaway PCs

Safeway et al. to bundle budget Net terminals to encourage Web-based grocery ordering, says Halla

Brian Halla, president and CEO of National Semiconductor, has become the latest industry big-wig to leap on the idea of giving away PCs for free. But don't call the guy up to demand a Pentium in the post -- he reckons Web-based e-commerce practitioners will do the donating. Speaking at the Microprocessor Forum in San Jose, California, Halla pitch centred on the coming ubiquity of e-commerce. He reckons that once more users begin to order everyday goods and services via the Web, the companies behind those sites will seek to differentiate their offerings not only on price but by making their sites easier to access. To Halla, that translates to giving away free, or at least very low cost, Internet access hardware, such as NC-like terminals, possibly running Citrix WinFrame-style client software, an interesting alternative to the set-top box approach most such visionaries adopt. Like Netscape's Marc Andreessen (see Andreessen predicts free PCs), who propounded the free PC model last September at the Telecosm conference, Halla looks to the cellphone model, where handsets are sold well below cost as part of airtime packages, for his vision. Not that Halla's view of the future is untarnished by commercial gain. His gameplan is based on the hope that the emerging market for cheap Internet access machines will drive up demand for Nat Semi subsidiary Cyrix's PC-on-a-chip MediaPC product, due next June, and which, according to Halla, Acer's Stan Shih has given the thumbs-up. During his talk, Halla alluded to the graphical power of the Sony Playstation, capable, he said, of stunning imagery generated solely by a collection of intergrated processors and a 34MHz CPU, as a guiding light for the low-cost Net terminals he envisages. His demo did indeed include super-slick Playstation imagery, but since it was streamed off a CD-ROM, not generated on the fly, Halla's clearly not quite as au fait with gaming technology as he believes. His proponency of WinFrame is also based on his own company's ongoing roll-out of some 50 WinFrame machines serving thousands of clients across the world. It would be ungallant of us to suggest a free ad for Citrix at the Forum may lead to lower licence fees, so we won't. ® Click for more stories

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