Intel wants to put you on Easy PC street

Does "Easy PC" still strike you as an oxymoron?

Fear not, Intel keeps plugging away at its Easy PC Initiative, a long-standing mandate for the PC industry to build better, simpler to use, and more effective platforms.

Many of its promises, however, are still at least a year away, acknowledged Jim Pappas, director of technology initiatives for Intel's Desktop Products Group.

Pappas used his keynote at the PC Developers' Conference & Expo in San Francisco this week to expound on the initiative's four goals: easy expandability, instant availability, constant connection and innovative packaging.

To demonstrate that final goal, Pappas showed a videotaped PC fashion show with bunny-suited models gyrating on a runway. Among the form factors on parade were red pyramids, a PC with exposed components made to look like a garden, and a 4-pound trapezoid. Most of the new platforms had flat-panel displays. There was even a bright blue PC shaped like a fish, named for the Japanese koi fish.

"We're not only validating the legacy-free concept, we are introducing style into the PC," Pappas said. "I know when I shop for a car, I consider what it looks like. I don't just look at the specs."

USB 2.0 is coming

Pappas stressed recurrent ease-of-use issues such as paring the number of port options and hiding complicated software.

For this, Intel's PC prototypes rely heavily on USB ports; the VGA port for the monitor and the power port are the only other extremities.

"Even with very few ports and very few slots, you can still do just about anything you want to," Pappas said. "We haven't yet figured out a way to eliminate the power port," he added jokingly.

Key is the upcoming USB 2.0, due for release by mid-2000. The new version is an order of magnitude faster, performing at 120 to 240Mbps. Market research firm Dataquest predicts that 500 million USB peripherals will be sold in 2003.

Currently, seven out of ten top-selling scanners are USB, including the top four best-sellers. "USB is the best add-on experience the PC has ever had, bar none," Pappas proclaimed.

Benchmarking ease of use

Pappas closed by urging PC developers "to compete on ease-of-use."

Ease-of-use will become a benchmark, Pappas said, on par with clock speed and memory performance. To emphasise his point, Pappas proposed metrics for ease-of-use benchmarks including the elapsed time from turning on your PC to launching an application.

While Pappas's keynote was well received, several developers on the conference floor said that Pappas was singing a familiar refrain. "Jim has been talking about ease-of-use for five years now," said Albert Saraie, senior director of sales and marketing for SiCore Systems.

"It will hinge largely on price and support," Saraie added. "As the volumes increase and prices start to come down, you will see a greater migration to ease-of-use technologies such as USB."

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