For small-to-medium PC manufacturers, the end is nigh, the future is bleak, the writing's on the wall, and the fan is preparing to be decorated in brown. For UK businesses, it's time to beware. The latest results from Dataquest's PC charts only reinforce the inevitable fact that within five years the PC marketplace will be largely run by a handful of huge vendors. It's already beginning to happen; AST pulled out of the European PC market and slashed 50% of its workforce to concentrate on notebooks; Olivetti's PC unit went under the hammer last year in order to survive; and IBM overhauled its desktop operations just to stop it losing its second place slot to HP and Dell. Digital's PC concerns are no longer a concern, considering Compaq has swallowed them whole and is bound to spit out the PC range like an annoying grape pip. Apple, on the other hand, is being avoided because the future of the Mac suffers from the same malady as a trainspotting (the hobby) or a dwarf-throwing competition; total lack of interest from the rest of the planet. That said, lobbing dwarfs through the air has better commercial viability than Macs. Even magazine production and design - the Mac staples - are being shifted onto the PC, because it's cheaper and faster. The whole point of this trip through the PC world is that players are dropping like flies. There is no place for little players in the corporate marketplace. Corporates want PCs by the hundreds and thousands and expect a support operation there to kiss, cuddle and tuck them into bed. They also want them cheap. The margins are just to tight for the runts of the litter. The next couple of years will see a number of mid-sized PC concerns go under, or just over to the other side by merger, takeover or desperation. The reason all of this is important is that as a business, you should be studying the form of PC vendors more closely than the nags in the Grand National. Anyone with a PC budget would be mad to fork out a huge chunk of dosh to a PC player that's a few million pounds short of a solvent company. Avoid the cheap option because support is always more important than price. Avoid the fallout by checking the balance sheets and market research of companies you want to deal with, before you get lumbered with the kit of a dinosaur.
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