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UK resellers hit back at dinosaur dealer accusations

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Distributor ATL Networks yesterday predicted dealers would be pushing up the daisies thanks to the free PC. ATL MD Mark Randall's statements prompted a variety of reactions from the UK channel, most of which were unprintable. ATL Networks was formerly Techex Communications, a company some Register readers will be familiar with. That the PC is a business tool, used for word processing and spreadsheets, seemed to escape Randall's notice. A low-end "free" PC was not suitable as an office machine, resellers said. Business PCs needed to be part of a network. And not all home users' main aim in buying a PC was to access cyberspace. Games users needed a more powerful machine. Randall's comments were dismissed as short-sighted. "The PC is not a product sold in isolation," said Ian French, Ideal Hardware CEO. "About 80 per cent of the machines we ship end up on a network. And many businesses want higher spec PCs. "Most people with a PC want to get onto the Internet. But this is not the main reason for buying a computer. "The free PC hasn't rocked the US channel, and I don't expect it to rock the UK channel. I don't think it has any significant use in the business market," added French. Barry Neill, MD of London-based reseller Reliance Computer Services, dismissed ATL's comments about the death of the reseller as "rubbish" and "short-sighted". "People will still buy PCs for other reasons than to get on the Internet," he said. Neill said about 60 per cent of PCs sold by Reliance went for games or standard office use. Andy Brown, an analyst at IDC, said the free PC was a publicity generator, aimed at people who did not understand IT. "It's good for people who can't afford to buy the hardware, but it still works out expensive. Companies are trying to tie users into spending money over a long period of time. "I think there will be a lot of people diving in and not reading the small print," he warned. "Mostly, it's just a good publicity stunt." Gregory Cunningham, Cheetah Computers president, admitted there was an opening in the market for the free PC. But while these machines were good to access the Web, they were unable to use voice recognition software and other higher-end computer tasks. "This is not to mention how much slower these 'free' systems are," said Cunningham. Other Register readers commented on the "lucky dip" specs involved, and the fact that businesses rely on quality, not price. While all were agreed that resellers must get into services, none backed up ATL's conviction that dealers faced extinction. Randall defended his beliefs, saying that, although the free PCs offered at the moment were low spec, this was just the beginning and an indication of what was to come. "We will get higher spec free PCs that will be suitable for corporates. As markets mature, and bandwidth expands, there will be so many opportunities. "The free PC of today is just the first step down the road," he said. "In two years time no product-based dealer businesses will exist. The only way resellers will make money will be by providing some of the services provided by the telecomms and ISPs, and other technical services." ®

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