No such thing as a free PC

Users given hardware for nothing, but must agree to suffer advertising bombardment

Free-PC.com is giving away computers for free. Literally. In a $10 million experiment,California-based Free-PC.com is doling out 10,000 Compaq Presarios to punters prepared to share their intimate buying habits with the company. No doubt, the demographics have to be right too. Free-PC.com ain't saying what people have to be to qualify for their freebie. The company is offering a sub-$1000 Compaq system, with a Pentium 333MHz processor, 32MB RAM and 4GB hard drive. This is not exactly top of the range, but at these non-prices, who's complaining? The Internet connection is also free. At least half of the hard drive is filled with adverts, which cannot be removed and which are permanently displayed. New ads are downloaded automatically when Freebie PC users go on-line. Some ads are full-motion,so online refreshes could be inordinately time-consuming. This feature of the Freebie PC would hamper extension of the programme to countries, such as the UK, where local calls are paid for. Freebie users who do not use the Internet for at least ten hours a month, will see their PC attempt to dial-up and download new adverts automatically. It will be interesting to see how Free-PC.com enforces its conditions of usage. Analyst Clive Longbottom of CSL Consultancy, said: "I think what they’ll do is send the boys round and take the thing back. And they’ll probably be doing a lot of that." Giving PCs away may seem an unusual sales strategy, but many industry watchers have predicted that this is the logical conclusion of falling hardware prices. Although no UK company has announced a similar offer -- yet -- it looks likely that it will be available here soon. Longbottom says: "This is the next logical step for ISPs; they have tried giving away software and free Internet access to get people on-line. They will not be giving these computers away as PCs, but as Internet entrance points." The Freebie PC project is also evidence of how companies can make use of surplus budget-priced PCs. According to Longbottom there will be a "new market for bottom-end and even reconditioned PCs in this area". ®

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