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Channel split over the free PC

It may grow the market, but is the UK consumer ready for it..?

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Tiny Computers launched its "free" PC offer last week to a mixed reception from its rivals. Not everyone will follow Tiny's lead. The deal ties customers into a year’s telecomms contract with the TinyTelecom company. In return for making a minimum £25 of calls per month, users are given a PC base with keyboard and Internet access. A couple of Tiny's competitors are ready to jump into the free PC pool, according to industry sources. But other rivals remain reticent – with some seeing the issue of the free computer as a moral question. According to Bordan Tkachuk, CEO of London-based PC assembler Viglen, users of the free PC must be ready to sell their souls. A tall order, even for the most ardent technology supporter. Viglen would never travel down the PC give-away road, said Tkachuk – who does not see it as a valid model for the UK at present. The free PC idea has flaws as the technology deployed in these PCs has a relatively short shelf life. Plus, people still have to pay for the machine by buying goods through advertising or by line or other charges, said Bordan. "A PC for nothing comes with some catches. People will have to wrestle with the trade-off between privacy invasion or hidden charges, and a 'bargain' machine." Others, like Dabs Direct, believe the concept is viable, but will not get involved. "I think the whole idea will work and am not surprised that Tiny has embarked on this deal," said David Atherton, Dabs Direct MD. "I expect other PC companies will do the same. Dabs would like to, but we are held back in two ways. Firstly, we are no longer a PC manufacturer, so we are largely reliant on the technology other vendors offer us. Also, the lower-end customer subscribing to this kind of offer will demand substantial technical support costs," he said. Software Warehouse dabbled with the free PC idea around two years ago with its "Space Station" project. It will not try it again, according to the reseller’s founder and MD Steve Bennett. "People in the UK still haven't grasped the concept of the free PC," said Bennett. "But anything that grows the market is fine by me – especially when people are free to buy things from the Internet but I don't have to sell them the PC to do it," he added. ®

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