Intel: Make PCs Simpler

Intel's answer is the Easy PC Initiative, developed with Microsoft to promote PCs that are easier to set up, use, expand, and maintain. But it's still too tough, Steve Whalley, Intel's ease of use initiative manager, told a sometimes-hostile crowd of developers at the Intel Developer Forum here.

Whalley chided PC manufacturers for delivering systems that require operating system configuration and repeated reboots right out of the box. He decried the practice of cluttering the desktop with too many confusing program icons. He even questioned why vendors seem to use so much plastic wrap and twist ties when they package a new PC.

And then he detailed some goals for vendors to improve PCs over the next two years.

Get (More) Graphical

The fewer steps a consumer must take--from opening the box to running a PC--the better, Whalley says. Vendors need to make PCs easy to get out of the box, they must provide easy and clear setup instructions (with matching pictures), they should color-code cables, and they must eliminate the need to reboot during the initial setup because it scares new users, he says. And hardware should be reliable; it should "just work," according the slogan of the Easy PC Initiative.

Vendors should preload software, eliminate any confusing DOS-based applications, and make often-used features easier to access, Whalley says.

"Pay attention to what users are doing with their PCs, and if they're checking their e-mail, put a button [for that] on the keyboard," he says.

It will be easier to add peripherals when PCs are free of internal slots and conventional serial and parallel external ports, Whalley adds. He says a good PC has plenty of USB ports in front and in back.

For easier maintenance, updates to the BIOS, drivers, and virus protection should be automatic, he says. Hard drive clean-up tools should be built in, and Web-based support should be standard.

Easier Said Than Done

Numerous audience members took Whalley to task on some of his suggestions. Some shook their heads at his comments; others spoke up, arguing that some of the goals are too difficult or expensive. Others noted that software needs to improve, too.

Difficult or not, these changes are necessary for PCs to be more widely adopted, an unfazed Whalley pointed out.

Recent products from Compaq and Dell are headed in the right direction, he says. During the conference, Intel gave the Compaq Presario EZ2000 and the Dell WebPC its Innovate PC Recognition Award for being easy to set up and use, as well as attractive.

Ease of use is important, but increasingly, so are aesthetics, Whalley says. "Style counts," he adds.

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Tom Mainelli

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