Microsoft continued to defend the personal computer against claims it will be soon be replaced by mobile devices and Internet connected terminals, even though it is contributing to the spread of these new devices.
Speaking in a panel session at Comdex, which included speakers from rivals Palm, Sun Microsystems and Psion, Microsoft senior vice president of consumer strategy Craig Mundie said there was still a place for the PC.
"The future is going to be one of the PC plus its friends. I think the PC will add value both in people's homes and networks," said Mundie.
But Bill Joy, chief scientist at Sun, argued that the PC would fade away in the same way as the floppy disk, being replaced by multiple devices.
"The floppy disappeared and wasn't replaced. I think the same thing will happen to the PC. There is no single successor," said Joy.
Microsoft is an increasingly strong player in the non-PC device market, with its Windows CE based mobile devices, WebTV set-top boxes and its new style Internet terminals - called MSN based Web companions - announced here at Comdex.
Mundie was asked if the spread of mobile devices threaten Wintel PCs.
"If it is bad news [for Wintel] then we're contributing to it ourselves," he said.
Users of these devices often graduate to using PCs, Mundie claimed. He said the most common reason for people stopping using WebTV is that they switch to using a PC to access the Internet.
"Think of these devices as trainng devices," he said.
However, even among Microsoft's rivals there is divided opinion about the future of computing.
"We want impersonal computers," said Sun's Joy, who favours the move towards Internet connected thin clients. "The PC has been a fulcrum over many years. The focus has now moved away from the PC and towards the Internet."
Alan Kessler, president of Palm Computing supports personalised mobile devices, which he said are more personal even than a PC.
"There's nothing more personal than something you wear," he said, brandishing his Palm V.
A member of the audience asked Microsoft's Mundie why 10 year old consumer electronics devices are often still fine to use today, yet a 10 year old PC is good only as a doorstop.
"There's no question that the technology is moving very quickly. However, there's no question that there are things in the consumer electronics world that make good doorstops as well," Mundie replied.
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