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Dell disses handhelds and Net appliances

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Say what you like about Michael Dell, the man certainly does not lack confidence in his product or his business strategy.

When CEOs of big computer companies come to talk to the press, you expect to hear a lot about their vision of the future. Speaking in London today, Michael Dell spent more time shooting down other visions that he did expounding his own ideas.

For Dell, the PC will remain central to people's lives and continue to be one of the most important ways we access the web.

"I think if you look in rooms on college campuses you get a good idea of where we are going with technology," he said. The PC at the centre of an entertainment system, replacing the hi-fi system and often the video too.

But what about all the other devices that have been produced, all those Internet appliances we keep hearing about? A good question, according to Dell. "What did happen to them all?"

In particular, what about the handheld market? It isn't a priority market for Dell, which is concentrating more on the server market and corporate PC's.

"In five years time, handheld and notebook markets will be similar in terms of unit volume," he said. "But in terms of revenue, handheld will be nine per cent to notebook's 91 per cent. I think it is clear from that which is more important."

Dell says it will get more interesting once wireless technology is embedded in the Palm's and PocketPC's. "But we are going after the high end first," he said.

And Bluetooth? He stopped short of calling it a load of hype - and did stress his company's commitment to it as a communications standard - but it was clear that as far as Dell is concerned, Bluetooth is a cable replacement technology, nothing more, nothing less. The way forward for wireless connectivity is 802.11.

Ok, so what about net access via a mobile phone? Forget about it as a serious competitor to the PC. "The way human being process information is essentially visual. The screen on a mobile phone is just too small. Even as the displays get larger, it will continue to be a problem."

All of his arguments are valid, indeed often ones we have used ourselves, but you can't help feeling that he might be missing the point a bit. Dell is not a visionary by any stretch of the imagination, and seems to be suffering from a kind of inertia.

However, Dell's market share is up, growing faster than the rest of the industry in all markets it is involved with, so it may be that he is on the same wavelength as the general public on this one.

But the overriding impression I got from the briefing was of a man who had a good idea and made a lot of money selling computers.

Good coffee though. ®

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