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PC Prices Reach $300 Milestone

timothy posted more than 9 years ago | from the huzzah-huzzah dept.

Businesses 515

Carl Bialik from the WSJ writes "Prices for fully loaded, name-brand PCs have slipped below $300 in the last few weeks, a major milestone. 'Ten or so years ago, when PCs cost five or even 10 times what they do now, it was common for analysts to say that they would never become a staple in homes until they were priced the way consumer electronics were, usually defined as costing less than $300,' Lee Gomes writes in the Wall Street Journal. 'In the days when PCs were $2,000 and even more, that target seemed to be something of a fantasy. Now, PCs cost less than some telephones--and less than a lot of TV sets--and can be found in roughly three-quarters of U.S. homes. But while they are priced like consumer electronics, the machines still aren't even remotely as easy to use, and the trend lines there aren't particularly encouraging.'"

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515 comments

Put Linux On It (5, Insightful)

gbulmash (688770) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801551)

The obvious /. response would be: put Linux and KDE (or Gnome if you swing that way) on them and the 'aren't even remotely as easy to use' complaint is solved or at least highly mitigated.

I now expect I'll be modded up as insightful. :-)

But in truth... Running IE and Outlook Express out of the box when pre-configured by Dell and hooked up by your local cable/DSL installer, vs. running Firefox and Thunderbird when configured and hooked up by your friend who knows their way around Linux... about the same learning curve. The trick is that if your friend who knows Linux set you up right, you won't be infected with three viruses and 18 types of spyware six months later.

Windows vs. Linux in usage... about the same. Maintenance... Linux wins.

- Greg

Re:Put Linux On It (3, Funny)

iapetus (24050) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801580)

Six months later? I think you're underestimating the efficiency of Microsoft Windows...

wouldn't it be nice... (1, Interesting)

cahiha (873942) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801586)

Wouldn't it be nice if Dell preconfigured Firefox, Thunderbird, and OpenOffice, and stripped out some of the junk in Microsoft Windows?

Re:wouldn't it be nice... (4, Insightful)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801638)

Yup. And then pay for techs to handle the "omg wtf, why won't this page load. U are the sux0r!".

I switched my folks over to Firefox, and this is what I got. Ended up putting the IE icon back on their desktop. Told them I will not clean spyware any more.

Re:wouldn't it be nice... (1)

aliens (90441) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801740)

What pages were they trying to view? Even most bank pages I have visited render just fine in Firefox.

Are you sure the font size wasn't just different, throwing them into a state of confusion?

Re:wouldn't it be nice... (4, Informative)

TheRealMindChild (743925) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801645)

Some OEM's TRIED to do this, until MS threatened to never let them sell Windows again... then they stopped.

Re:Put Linux On It (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801612)

The trick is that if your friend who knows Linux set you up right, you won't be infected with three viruses and 18 types of spyware six months later.

Sure, if you're the type of friend who likes to get calls at 8pm on a Sunday night saying "Hey, I bought this USB video conversion thingy and want to edit my home movies, but the software doesn't install. How can I transfer my movies from my video camera to my PC and then burn a DVD of it?"

Sure, Linux can probably do it, but do you really want to spend the next 8 hours walking your friend through downloading and compiling packages, kernel modules, or hunting around for software to accomplish the task? Either let them use Windows, which 95% of the software out there assumes you have, or prepare to be their phone support for the next 2 or 3 years.

Face it, no matter how hard you try, some users are just not going to get it. I've had to explain to my mother how to drag and drop a file to copy it in Windows 30 times over the past 5 years and she keeps forgetting. Sure, it's probably a convenient excuse to get me to talk to her for more than 5 minutes, but I've got other shit to do.

Re:Put Linux On It (0, Offtopic)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801764)

ANY high throughput USB device is going to be problematic, PERIOD.

Assuming I just didn't tell them to get themselves the $100 dvd recorder that everyone and their mother's cat has been advertising lately, I'd steer them at least towards firewire (regardless of OS).

It appears that you've never done this sort of thing under any OS and are pretty much full of sh*t.

Re:Put Linux On It (3, Informative)

dduck (10970) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801808)

*huh?*

I have been using a Plextor DVD recorder on USB2 for quite a while now, with no problems at all. In fact, I have hooked up 10 external CD-R drives to my main machine, all on USB2, all working fine with Alcohol 120% for disk duplication on a semi-industrial scale.

Last I looked, USB 2 was on par with FireWire for most things, certaintly in terms of bandwith/throughput.

Re:Put Linux On It (4, Informative)

strongmace (890237) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801662)

Linux for most people is not easy to set up. A lot of people dont even know how to install programs properly, let alone an operating system. Most linux installers are not easy to use, especially for the free distros. Linspire or Xandros are what most people would probably be most comfortable with.

Now, I will grant you that if somebody knowledgeable sets up linux, they can make it so that the interface is very simple and easy to use. That said, many people are still simply comfortable with windows. They don't like to use something different at home from what they use at work. Even though the word processor may just say 'Writer' instead of 'Word,' it can confuse people who don't like to work with things that are not familiar.

With regards to security, I agree. My mom had neglected to install the antivirus software I sent her as well as the anti-spyware programs I told her to download (adaware, spybot, webroot spy sweeper, spyware doctor, ms-antispyware, tweaknow regcleaner). She simply wasnt comfortable installing things because she was too afraid she would mess up her computer. Three months later when I was visiting, I took a look at her computer and it was running extremely slow. Just from normal everyday web browsing she had 6 viruses and just shy of 700 spyware infections. Windows, now that it has the basic protections set up, is safe enough for her to use and maintain. Default security settings and programs on Windows machines need to be improved.

Using a computer can be quite daunting, but using something different than what one is comfortable with can be terrifying for the average user.

I beg to differ. (5, Interesting)

CdBee (742846) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801666)

I disagree. Purely on the grounds that many users have Windows experience from office work, and also because Gnome and KDE are both built on the same principles as Windows XP and use exactly the same concepts. There's no usability advantage to Linux when configured thus.

An obvious security advantage, yes, but at the cost of obscurity. I build PCs for home users and I find it very difficult to sell Linux and mac based systems because users insist on being able to run the educational/edu-tainment titles they can buy in PCWorld (here in the UK) or presumably CompUSA on your side of the pond

Ultimately, home users want Windows and are generally willing to pay out for NAT routers, antivirus and anti-spyware apps to protect them from the consequences. As an aside, the cheapest branded PCs you can buy in the UK are about £300, which considering the state of the Dollar on the foreign exchange markets is a bit of a rip-off...
You can get a Mac mini for the same price (no monitor though)!

Re:Put Linux On It (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801724)

when configured and hooked up by your friend who knows their way around Linux

Isn't that the point of being easy to use? I'm sure I could find anyone who's an expert at anything to configure it for me... but that doesn't change the fact that it's too complex for the common user in the first place.

Re:Put Linux On It (1)

NeedleSurfer (768029) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801728)

I can't tell for maintenance but setting up Linux will take you as much time as setting up Windows and maintaining it for a whole year. I mean that installing Linux is most often very easy, or at least somewhat easy, that is if you read the instructions in case you are a newbie but once you actually get to your desktop the real set up actually begins and it is a long one, just finding your vid card in Mandrake for example is a serious pain, it shows you every possible video card maker and each of their product released since the 80s and you gotta guess which one to use. Of course its easy, you reboot in Windows and it tells you what you have in the device manager, then back to Linux to tell it and so on, I use Windows to configure Linux because Windows get stuff Linux don't and all of this switching takes a long time cause you always forget something when taking notes. Configuring Knoppix so that it looks and behave as you want is a real pain you gotta configure burn and reboot if it doesn't work as you wished or you forgot something its a reconfigure reburn and reboot and so on...

I believe in this case the initial set up time far outweight the maintenance time expecialy for a newbie, the type that buys 300$ box to email and chat...

Re:Put Linux On It (1)

GuyWithLag (621929) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801836)

Funny, whenever I have some hardware problem, I find it easied to diagnose it on Linux. But then again, I have the arcane knowledge of the lsusb and lspci commands.

On the other hand, The most difficult decision when installing Ubuntu on my laptop was how to name it, and everything (but the built-in camera) worked perfectly on the first try.

Re:Put Linux On It (2, Insightful)

kilodelta (843627) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801745)

Why on earth would I want to put a stable operating system on a friend or acquaintance's machine?

The $50 minimum to clean up spyware, viruses etc. adds up to $500 a month for me. Why would I walk away from that?

Of course when I'm asked to build a system for someone it is built with all patches applied, AVG, users choice of firewall both hardware and software, Firefox and Thunderbird. That tends to cut down on the repair side but happy people are more valuable.

It doesn't necessarily need to be Linux and KDE. A well maintained Windows system works too.

But this all agrees with the basic premise of the article. Most home users shouldn't have administrative rights on their own computers. That's the biggest problem I run into.

Re:Put Linux On It (1)

cecille (583022) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801803)

While it is true that out-of-the-box setups tend to be compromized early, it's not necessarily true that the only way to solve this is by getting linux on there. I have a copy of windows 2000 on my computer that's been running solid for 2 good years virus and spy-ware free, and it's my main os, so it's in use a LOT. The key isn't necessarily the operating system, but the fact that the proper measures are put in place to keep it solid.

And while the learning curve is about the same, I think new users especially might have a harder time finding help if they ran into problems using linux. And, yes, I know there's tonnes of help out there, but I work with new users a lot, and I've noticed that they (for obvious reasons) very rarely tend to use online help and rather end up talking to friends and relatives for advice or assistance. A lot of the time these aren't really technical people, just people with more time logged on a computer. And that time is usually with windows. Who knows though...maybe a new user would take to linux like a donkey to a waffle, but I'd hesitate to do that without knowing they had access to the proper type of one-on-one support that new users usually need for their computers.

Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801563)

Didn't this happen already with the mac mini?

Or do they specifically mean usable PC's?

Re:Hmmm (0)

prodangle (552537) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801642)

The Mac Mini still costs $499 without a monitor, so it's got a long way to go.

Re:Hmmm (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801657)

The Mac mini costs $500 minimum.

Yes, Steve Jobs invented it. (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801680)

Apple invents everything new in computers.

( rolls eyes )

Uhhh.... DUH~! (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801564)

Of course they're harder to use! I'd like to see any other consumer electronic do half of what is possible on a computer. That's why they aren't incredibly easy to use, easy enough for any idiot: they are very powerful and the possibilities are many. Maybe somebody should make an OS that even completely idiotic people can use.

Re:Uhhh.... DUH~! (5, Insightful)

Total_Wimp (564548) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801704)

"Of course they're harder to use!"

I don't think the difference is as big as most people assume. Yes, OSs are huge, complicated and amazingly difficult to master, but the average person has no need of mastery. When you look at what the average person does, it's actually fairly easy.

-turn on, click on web browser, type URL of favorite site.
-turn on, insert disc, hit next, next, next, finished, use newly installed software.
-turn on, insert disc, hit next, next, next, finished, plug in USB hardware, use new hardware.

Have you ever tried to dial-in surround sound? Have you ever tried to make your TV, surround sound reciever, cable/sat box, and DVD player all work well using a single remote control? Have you ever tried to watch a TV, then switch to DVD using all of the remote controls that hadn't been unified into a single one?

Yes, OSs are complicated. Consumer electronics is too.

TW
TW

Re:Uhhh.... DUH~! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801714)

PC - fine. But I've got this new microwave that's really got me stumped.

Re:Uhhh.... DUH~! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801818)

They have made such an OS. It's called OS X.

Get ready.... (-1, Redundant)

ylikone (589264) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801569)

for the hundreds of posts saying "Yeah, but why would anybody want a shiatty piece of poor quality junk like that when you can buy a Mac?"

Re:Get ready.... (1)

rnx (99293) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801619)

get ready for the obvious answers ... price, no vendor lock in, valgrind

Re:Get ready.... (1)

Kosmatos (179297) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801636)

That's in fact a great idea.

One problem... (5, Informative)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801573)


Interesting article...but it seemed to fail to mention one important dynamic.

As time passes, operating systems and applications become progressively larger and more complex, requiring correspondingly more robust hardware to run on. I doubt that the 'entry level PC' (whatever that means) of a year ago is equal to the 'entry level PC' of today.

Re:One problem... (1)

The Slashdotted (665535) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801676)

How much extra memory and resources did you allocate for slipstreamed Service Pack 2?

Me neither. The pig got 512 meg 3 yrs ago, and the same today.

With PCI Express, DDR2, Dual Core, x64, the sexy changes IMHO will be hardware, and those will filter down to everyone.

Hmmm... (4, Insightful)

Bonzor (856075) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801576)

I don't know about you, but computers are fairly simple to use out of the box nowadays. Plug it in, turn it on, point and click. Unless companies are still shipping DOS boxes to the massess.... I see more and more adults, kids and teenagers using computers than I ever have. So, it appears that computers are easy to use as long as the user has some sort of intelligence.

Re:Hmmm... (1)

Jim_Maryland (718224) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801687)

No matter how simple the setup and usage of computers get, you'll still have some people who have little to no interest in figuring out how to make the system work. They'll continue to look at the system as a tool and want very specific steps to follow rather than trying to understand prompts/wizards.

I'll agree with you though that out of the box systems are becoming more simple to setup and use for those who have at least a casual interest in computers.

computers are easy to use as long as the user has some sort of intelligence.

One might think that, but I've seen some pretty intelligent users who have no interest in learning about computers (setup or usage). Services like "Geeks on Call" seems to cater to many of these.

Where do you get your prices??? (5, Informative)

dbleoslow (650429) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801585)

'Ten or so years ago, when PCs cost five or even 10 times what they do now,

I got a fully loaded (ie Windows and such) for ~$300 about eight years ago. It was (and still is..runs like a champ) an Emachines which I would call a major brand. These prices have been around for a while.

Re:Where do you get your prices??? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801772)

Bullshit. eMachines didn't launch until 1998 and they didn't have $300 PCs at that point. They were cheaper than the alternatives but they were not $300. Up until last year you used to be able to get nice laptops from them as well. But then gateway bought them out last year and they don't sell laptops anymore. And their prices went up for their regular systems too. Their cheapest one is $369 now *without* the monitor and after the $50 MIR. Gateway bought them just to kill them off basically. Hell, you can buy a dell for $299 now and get the monitor and a piece of shit printer.

Re:Where do you get your prices??? (4, Funny)

loraksus (171574) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801793)

Yeah, I also bought a TV for about $5 8 years ago. The guy was muttering something about needing "crack"...

What about the Microtel PCs? (5, Interesting)

PrideOfPomona (654189) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801587)

I could be wrong, but hasn't Walmart been selling PCs for $199 for a year or so now? Isn't this guy a little late to the party?

Sign of the times... (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801588)

Probably offtopic, but if the submitter is really from the WSJ, it's a sign of how mainstream Slashdot has become that it now gets stories from the ultimate bastion of stuffed-shirt corporate America.

junk (1, Insightful)

a-dac (698778) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801596)

These cheap pc's are nothing but junk. Spend the extra money on a good machine

Re:junk (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801807)

Spend the extra money on a good machine

I can sell you the same thing for $300 more. Would that you feel that you were getting better quality? More money is not directly related to the quality of hardware or software.

Fully loaded? (5, Funny)

lostwanderer147 (829316) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801598)

How can they call it a "fully-loaded" computer? It doesn't even come with speakers! Everyone knows that a fully loaded computer needs to have speakers. It's just not really functional without them.

*Ducks*

Re:Fully loaded? (1)

Fox_1 (128616) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801689)

I want an extra cup holder in mine, like the other one that slides out when I press a button.

Re:Fully loaded? (1)

MonoSynth (323007) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801809)

Why? The speakers you'll get with a $300 pc are only good for the annoying sounds of the OS and apps, and are not usable for music. They'd better spend those 5$ on something I won't throw/give away....

I can... (1)

Eagle-Y (891220) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801600)

I can build you a *brand new* P2 for a whooping $50

Re:I can... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801763)

Sweet! Will that include Win98 so I could play all my old DOS games again?

hardly (4, Insightful)

udderly (890305) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801603)

Prices for fully loaded, name-brand PCs have slipped below $300 in the last few weeks, a major milestone.

The PCs that are below $300 may be 'brand name' but they are hardly what I'd call 'fully loaded.' Usually 128MB memory and a Celeron or Sempron. Definitely not the Rolls-Royce of computing.

Re:hardly (2, Funny)

SeventyBang (858415) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801829)


Fully loaded means you have a CPU, Celeron or otherwise.
For less than that you can have a computer but it doesn't have a CPU.

It's sort of like the write-only hard drives we designed in college while sitting over cocktails (we attended a dry religious university) at a casino in Atlantic City (after ACM National Finals in Philadelphia + job fair) - and I know everyone else has created their own version as well.
Support: "You say there's smoke coming out of your hard drive? What were you doing right before that? You were copying files from it? I'm sorry, sir, but that's not a supported feature. This is write-only hard drive. Infinite capacity. The only way we can make that feature possible is to prevent reading from the device."

Fully loaded.... (3, Funny)

wpiman (739077) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801605)

This must be some new definition of "fully loaded" that was previously unaware of.

Re:Fully loaded.... (1)

jezstephens (882336) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801672)

Fully loaded as in not missing any required components (e.g. memory, or perhaps even operating system). That would be my definition anyway.

WSJ articles... (0, Offtopic)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801608)

Hey, I just noticed something... The Wall Street Journal was (I thought) one of the few successful pay-for-access websites on the internet. What's with these free articles? Is this a new thing for them? If so, t's kindof cool.

Re:WSJ articles... (1)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801733)

No, they have a selected(today it was about 4) number of articles everyday that you can access free of charge. This just happens to be one of them(I bet if you click the link tomorrow it won't work)

Cost of Windows (2, Interesting)

91degrees (207121) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801611)

How much does an OEM copy of Windows cost these days? This must affect the final price quite considerably.

Re:Cost of Windows (2, Informative)

BHearsum (325814) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801651)

I worked for a small OEM and we charged $130 CAD for Home and $150 CAD for Pro. I believe Media Center was a bit more than that. Obviously the big OEMs will get volume discounts though.

300 dollars for what? (5, Funny)

east coast (590680) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801617)

I was just at a yard sale and got a PC called a "Commodore 64" for 10 dollars with like 50 games. I expected the graphics to be a bit better but this "Radar Rat Race" just roxorz!

Re:300 dollars for what? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801639)

If you've got Paradroid there, I am in complete envy.

The one game that desperately needs a modern day update

Backward compatible, too (1)

ianscot (591483) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801708)

Pretty sure I played "Radar Rat Race" as a cartridge plugged into the back of our Vic-20. The music had the most maddeningly flat note at the end of the (endlessly repeated) first line...

So, your garage sale purchase included backward compatibility! Totally forward thinking. This "Commodore" company really understands the course it's charting. Invest now.

(Though personally, I think consoles will always make more sense for gaming. You'd want an Intellivision for the games.)

Re:300 dollars for what? (1)

ValiantSoul (801152) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801817)

I used to have one of these - was loads of fun until it stopped working. I think I still have it somewhere in my basement. If I remember right, didn't it use some sort of BASIC for its shell and programming?

even more amazing given inflation (4, Informative)

cahiha (873942) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801624)

You have to remember that, although low, we have also had some inflation over the last 20-30 years. So, that $300 PC is more like a $150 machine of a couple of decades ago. Compare that with the VIC-20, which cost about $400 in 1981 (with 64k of memory).

Re:even more amazing given inflation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801815)

Ummmm....
I bought my VIC-20 for $300. It came with 3k. It wasn't even really capable of 64k.
Maybe you're thinking of the C64 a little later? /Irrelevant

Re:even more amazing given inflation (1)

dduck (10970) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801824)

Surely not with 64K? The VIC20???

You must be thinking about the C64...

Perception hasn't caught up yet though. (2, Interesting)

LetterJ (3524) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801625)

As prices have fallen, I've quickly reached a point where getting a new machine every 6-12 months is pretty normal (though I still tend to stay on the lower end of the spectrum). However, people still keep wanting advice on keeping their 700Mhz machine running when it's clearly not working so well anymorre. I just picked up a 1.1Ghz/256MB/40GB machine last week for $100. I still tend to put lower end machines to use (firewalls, fileservers, webservers, etc.), but for general consumers, PC's have reached disposable pricing. When you look at what places like GeekSquad charge per hour for diagnosis and repair, it gets pretty hard to recommend anything other than a new box when things go bad.

When asked, "I've got this problem. How would you fix it?" I now pretty much just say, "Personally, I'd just buy a new machine."

Re:Perception hasn't caught up yet though. (1)

udderly (890305) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801701)

When you look at what places like GeekSquad charge per hour for diagnosis and repair, it gets pretty hard to recommend anything other than a new box when things go bad.

I agree. And most people think that you can just upgrade the processor, without realizing that this usually entails a new motherboard, new memory--in other words, they might as well get a new machine.

The exception being the small business that has $2000 worth of software running on the old beater that is really ready for the junkyard. Many small businesses don't know how to reinstall the software, clone the hard drive or are too afraid of losing their data.

Re:Perception hasn't caught up yet though. (1)

dissolved (887190) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801738)

Isn't telling people to go away and buy a new machine just avoiding the issue? More and more these days the things I've been asked to look at have stemmed from "This page said I was the millionth person to visit their site and that I should get some free smilies! Now my internet has been replaced with this other stuff"

I'm finding it hard to think of a circumstance that a user would benefit from buying a new machine. I'd think the focus ought to be on NOT getting people to throw money at a new box every time it blue screens - what a waste of money!

Re:Perception hasn't caught up yet though. (1)

Krimszon (815968) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801795)

When I'm asked what to do when there's a problem, I look at the PC, if it's a brand like Dell or HP, I say hold F10 when rebooting and click yes.

Basically System Restore, but people should know how to backup their stuff first.

Pity (5, Interesting)

Rinisari (521266) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801629)

It is a pity that the average consumer still believes that a computer is like any other home appliance - it should last, unattended and with little regular maintenance, for years upon years. Computers are not like refrigerators or microwaves or dishwashers - they are a category of their own. They /do/ require regular upkeep via software and regular cleaning of the hardware. Unless you've got a case that has an Ionic Breeze [sharperimage.com] built into it (I challenge thee, O gladiators of Slashdot), your computer gets dusty.

It won't be until computers are in the $100 price range that the average consumer thinks of them the way a lot of enthusiasts do: a tool with perqs.

Until that time, people like us can make money as Mr. Fix-its and computational handymen.

Then there is the other commonly heard phrase: "Well, you fixed it a week ago and it's broke again." To which I normally respond (at least to the people I call friends): "Have you used it since I fixed it?"

Computers don't break themselves. Users break computers.

But they should be (1)

jockm (233372) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801706)

They should be more like appliances. Internally they should be self healing. And externally they should be more like my TiVO that has just sit there and run 24/7 for years. No Ionic Breeze necessary.

For 90+% of the population computers should be more like appliances, that just sit there and work. Not enough effort has been made by the hardware or software manufactures towards this end.

Re:Pity (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801713)

The average consumer also tends to believe that their computer is broken when in fact it is still functioning perfectly, or at least as "perfectly" as a windows box could run.

Re:Pity (2, Insightful)

stephencrane (771345) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801751)

I have to disagree. There's nothing piteous about people expecting the same functionality out of their computer that they get out of the TV and DVD player. If that's what they want, that's what they'll buy. It just won't be the computer you'd choose to buy. Selling a computer most /.'ers wouldn't buy is hardly a bad decision from the start, since those who expect a toaster's functionality out of a PC tend to outnumber those who don't. That said, anything requiring constant upkeep should be built/designed to do its own. The car analogy usually brought out around now doesn't fly because of an average computer's miniscule # of moving parts. The maintanence you're referring to isn't about changing ball bearings and gaskets. It's about patches and updates.

yuck (4, Insightful)

cahiha (873942) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801758)

You don't clean your refrigerator and your microwave? That's disgusting.

Computers don't break themselves. Users break computers.

Well, that's quickly changing: these days, computers can break themselves, be it via automatic upgrades, spyware, or worms that come in through vendor-supplied security holes.

Um, no. (0)

tgd (2822) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801769)

Its a pity that engineers designing the software and hardware on a modern PC don't believe it should be like any other appliance.

We're half a decade into the 21st century. Computers should be like a dishwasher or a microwave. They should not require me to do any regular cleaning, any regular patching. It should just work.

Its a failure on the part of the industry that this isn't the case.

PC's USED to cost under $300! (3, Insightful)

bgarcia (33222) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801641)

Remember back in the 1980's when Commodore, Tandy, Atari, and Texas Instruments lead the pack in home computers? These machines were priced right around the magical $300 mark back then. So how did we go from such great, cheap machines to the expensive PC-compatibles just a few years later?

Re:PC's USED to cost under $300! (1)

grumling (94709) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801686)

They wern't that great. The great thing about them is that they came with Basic. Never going back to that 40 column display, junky sound, and summersaults to get more than 16 colors on the screen at a time (at least with the Atari and VBI switching).

Re:PC's USED to cost under $300! (1)

jedidiah (1196) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801787)

Compared to the PC's of the day they were f*cking wonderful. The "higher end" machines didn't do much better (if any better) while being remarkably more expensive.

Re:PC's USED to cost under $300! (1)

bgarcia (33222) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801842)

They wern't that great. The great thing about them is that they came with Basic. Never going back to that 40 column display, junky sound, and summersaults to get more than 16 colors on the screen at a time
But compare them to the IBM PC's of that time!

You're talking about 2 colors (black and green/amber, depending on what monitor you bought), no sound other than the beeps from the built-in speaker, and an order of magnitude higher price tag.

The only thing that the PC-compatibles really had going for them was that they were compatible with the computers that people used at work, and they were immensely upgradable due to the ISA bus. And apparently, that was enough to marginalize every other player (except Apple, which had a strong foothold in the education sector).

Re:PC's USED to cost under $300! (1)

ylikone (589264) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801716)

It's called inflation. You also don't pay $2.50 to see a movie at the theatre anymore.

that's not what he meant (2, Informative)

jbellis (142590) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801780)

here, I'll spell it out for you

"how did we go from the $400 commodore 64 to the $4000 IBM PC within a year or two?"

no, we didn't have 1000% inflation in the early 80s

Disposable? (1)

cybathug (561017) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801644)

These days, if my VCR broke, I'd never get it repaired which I might have a few years ago. I'd just go out and buy a new one (That is, until I get around to building a PVR).

How long until the average Joe gets a virus and chucks his (Hopefully uninfected) data on a USB memory stick and grabs a new Dell? Getting the virus removed could very well be harder to learn to do or more expensive to get someone else to do than just grabbing a new PC. If Windows pushed the ability to transfer data between computers easily, a PC could easily become a disposable item for the general public.

Then we could get a hold of the turfed out computers, fix them up and use them. Imagine a Beowulf cluster of those things... (Sorry)

Example (2, Informative)

jbeaupre (752124) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801647)

For those looking for an example: http://microcenter.com/single_product_results.phtm l?product_id=184679 [microcenter.com] Yeah, not a great computer, but does what most folks are looking for.

Re:Example (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801773)

Why do they tell to buy McAfee, when the OS is linspire? Do they want to make money?

ill have to agree (1)

sakura the mc (795726) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801648)

although my latest box isnt an off the shelf type, i put together a dual opteron box for less than 500. that should tell you how much computer component prices have fallen.

Knock-on effect? (1)

zakkie (170306) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801649)

Surely, hopefully, this will have a knock-on effect for other electronic hardware, with prices showing a downward trend in order to try & keep sales from the PC. I must say that for what you get inside the typical PC these days, it's incredible value for money.

Also, this has to put pressure on our friends in Redmond, as their OS tends to become the priciest "component" of any new PC not running an alternative OS. Couple this with the Mac switch to Intel, and BG & Co could really be in a spot of bother... Interesting indeed.

Doing more adds to complexity (2, Interesting)

Targon (17348) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801654)

Let's face it, most people have a hard enough time dealing with the remote control. You have the universal remotes that control TV, VCR/DVD, and other devices. Computers have many more features than these consumer electronic devices offer, so of course they won't be as easy to use.

It also depends on what you plan to do with your computer. If you use Quickbooks for example, that program alone has more complexity than most home theaters. The more complex tasks are that you do on a computer, the more complex the use of the computer tends to become. A dedicated web browser is closer to what these people want. They don't want a computer, they want something dedicated to running a single program.

Dell and other OEMs add so much junk to a computer that it also complicates things for many end-users. Most never use the pre-installed programs on these computers and buy their own or have a friend recomend the best ones to use and then use them. Of course, they still have the original junk left behind. How many systems have both MS Works and MS Office installed on them? How about all the stupid support tools that most people never want? They add complexity without functionality.

As the level of computer knowledge rises in the general public, stupid articles complaining about computer complexity will go away. I give it another 30 years or so.

Laptops too (1)

It doesn't come easy (695416) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801655)

They are not down to $300 yet but the price of laptops have been falling pretty dramatically too. I bought a laptop for $1900 a year ago (not gonna tell you which brand, so there, but it's easily fast enough to play most high end games). That gave my wife laptop envy and so I finally bought her a new laptop just 2 months ago for her birthday (10 months after I bought mine). Her machine is the same brand, with a faster processor, better graphics card, bigger hard drive and it was down to $1400. Not I have laptop envy. For comparison, my desktop machine (3 years old) cost me $2500, and both laptops are faster.

It looks like we may very well be close to the age of (for all practical purposes) free hardware...

New Milestone (1)

chrisnewbie (708349) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801659)

They forgot to add that they also got to a new level for crapy pc under 300$

Cmon people! When i look at the cost of separate hardware i cant build a pc under 700$ (canadian money)
Unless they have carton box to put the plastic hard disc and the cheap ram!

Why Dell is successful (1)

monkbent (856056) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801661)

You can't do this in a brick and mortor ...

"A Dell spokesman notes that the cost of the components that make up a PC drop an average of half a percent a week ... The machine being discussed here, the Dimension 2400, began last week at $299. By Friday, it was already selling for $1 less."

How long does it take Best Buy/Comp USA to adjust? I would imagine to adjust the price of a computer by $1 would be a net loss after you consider the amount of labor to simply change the display prices! I despise Dell's - 'fixing' my parents computer convinced me of that - but I gotta admire how they take advantage of the flexibility of the web.

Hot off the presses! (2, Funny)

NoMoreNicksLeft (516230) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801667)

Rocketships are cheaper than a horse and buggy was for your great-great-great-grandfather, but still not as easy to use!

Commodore (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801679)

A long time ago I had a computer called a Commodore 64, and I'm pretty sure it only cost about $300.

mod u4 (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801690)

a cchange To

I'm sick of hearing this... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801698)

Personal computers are not supposed to be as easy to use as a TV or fridge or other consumer appliance. They're complex, powerful machines, and that's what makes them so useful - if they were that easy to use, what good would they actually be?

I think it's incredibly pig-headed of people to expect to be able to use something as complex as a computer without taking some training, or at least bothering to RTFM. If you want simple, buy a GameBoy.

Laptops (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801710)

Laptops are still kinda pricey though aren't they? I am still waiting until my powerbook is obsolete (according to my demand from it) to buy my windows 15 inch widescreen to replace my current desktop pc.

What we need now... (2, Insightful)

rben (542324) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801711)

...is a laptop below $100.

While lower prices for desktop machines is great, we need to find a way to get laptops down to a price point where they can be used to replace textbooks for highschool students.

This textbook replacement laptop doesn't necessarily have to have every possible feature, but I think it does need networking, USB, a harddrive, and a display that is fast enough for word processing and simple animations. The ability to play music might insure that the kids don't lose it. The kids can play FPS games at home on their $300 PCs; this machine is meant for study.

Obviously, Linux will be part of that solution, since Windows simply costs too much money.

The educational software for such machines should all be Open Source. This will make it easier for governments and school systems to adapt the software to their particular needs. Each school district can employ a couple of Open Source programmers. Think of what the combined capabilities of so many programmers will be when it comes to developing educational software.

It's sad that we don't hear about wonderful educational software. The people who work on such software aren't held in the same regard as those who work on business enterprise applications or on games, yet educational software could potentially have much farther reaching impacts.

Re:What we need now... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12801839)

...is a hooker below $100.

While lower prices for hookers is great, we need to find a way to get hookers down to a price point where they can be used to replace textbooks for highschool students.

This textbook replacement hooker doesn't necessarily have to have every possible feature, but I think it does need networking, USB, a harddrive, and a display that is fast enough for word processing and simple animations. The ability to play music might insure that the kids don't lose it. The kids can play FPS games at home on their $300 hookers; this hooker is meant for study.

Obviously, Linux will be part of that solution, since Windows simply costs too much money.

The educational software for such hookers should all be Open Source. This will make it easier for governments and school systems to adapt the hookers to their particular needs. Each school district can employ a couple of hookers. Think of what the combined capabilities of so many hookers will be when it comes to developing educational software.

It's sad that we don't hear about wonderful educational software. The people who work on such software aren't held in the same regard as those who work on business enterprise applications or on games, yet educational software could potentially have much farther reaching impacts.

Household staple (5, Insightful)

Junior J. Junior III (192702) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801715)

Ten or so years ago, when PCs cost five or even 10 times what they do now, it was common for analysts to say that they would never become a staple in homes until they were priced the way consumer electronics were, usually defined as costing less than $300. In the days when PCs were $2,000 and even more, that target seemed to be something of a fantasy.

I dunno about this, it seems to me that PCs have been a household staple for a while now. Even when they still cost $1000, they were common enough that it would be a surprise for a household not to have a PC in it. If you also consider the number of homes which have an obsolete PC (older than 5 years old or so) which are pretty much given away at rummage sales and such, the PC is just about ubiquitous.

Ease of use (5, Interesting)

MECC (8478) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801719)

I don't know if I'd want a computer that worked like a cell phone.

As for how easy computers are to use, I put my roommate, just an average consumer-grade computer user, down in front of my thinkpad running Debian (testing), and she was browsing the web, reading email, and doing research without a lick of help from me. Her response to "its running linux" was "what's that?"

Easy to use, and no virus/trojan/worm/zombie/whatever-the-latest-windo ws-exploit-catagory-is-today worries at all. I don't think browsing the web, reading email, and opening various documents is harder on windows, nor is fixing windows any easier than linux - in fact it may very well be easier to fix windows (that's nother discussion), but the shear frequency of the need to fix windows itself seems to represent one of the factors in determining people's perception of how easy it is to use. You can't talk to somebody about computers for five minutes without the topic of viruses comming up. Most 'hard-core' windows users/advocates seem to see viruses, worms and the like as an unavoidable part of computing. Maybe if MS would clean up its act, computers would be as easy to use as cell phones.

Microsoft (1)

bogaboga (793279) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801748)

Microsoft must be planning a strategy. License fees will be significantly reduced and we'll see more deals with governments.

Question: Is there a way we in the Free Open Source Movement can increase pressure on M$?

Real solutions are needed.

Didn't all cost that much (2, Interesting)

slapout (93640) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801749)

Ten or so years ago, when PCs cost five or even 10 times what they do now

In the early 90s, an Atari ST cost about $400.

linux on the box (2, Insightful)

evil_marty (855218) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801770)

I would love nothing more then to have every brand new computer running linux on them. The fact of the matter is that installing an application for linux and its removable is more complex for the basic user. Until theres a universal package and delivery system for linux that the average joe can point-and-click to install, linux is not going to take off the ground. And yes I know of apt-get and emerge and their GUI frontends, but really they arent simply enough. Remember we are working for more of a duh-duh idiot then you or me.

Pessimistic (5, Interesting)

BioCS.Nerd (847372) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801779)

I question the wisdom behind making such cheap computers. It seems to me that such cheap goods will encourage a "disposable" mentality to the computers. When this happens we can expect to see people merely throwing their old computers out on a scale worse than today.

Computers seem to be the new styrofoam cup: we use them for a while, but they're with us forever. In my most humble opinion, I think the industry as a whole halt their progression towards ever cheaper computers for a while and instead focus on making fully recyclable computers.

Stable price (4, Insightful)

Underholdning (758194) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801785)

I recently bought a new PC. I paid the same as I did for my first Intel PC 15 years ago. Yes, cheap PC's has gotten cheaper, but the price for a top notch PC with all the bells and whistles has been more or less stable for quite some time.

Grow up! (2, Interesting)

miffo.swe (547642) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801805)

I really thing the computing industry and especially the software industry needs to grow up, seriously. There need to be better standardisation. Note that Windows is not a standard as Windows isnt compatible with windows even between variuos upgrades.

Using a computer today demands you know exactly what you are doing and why, For your casual surfer or media user that should not be tha case. All they need to know is where to go and what to watch. Its the OS that demands the users help, not the other way around. No sane user wants to maintain the computer. He do it because he have to.

The fast solution is cramming out specialized computers but that hits the wall pretty quick because of the lack of real standards on the net.

Until we have some sane (widely used by even Microsoft) standards for the web nothing will change and every appliance will fall flat on its face. The industry created this mess with their "not invented here" syndrome and they are the ones who should clean the mess up.

Idiocy (4, Insightful)

Eminence (225397) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801811)

But while they are priced like consumer electronics, the machines still aren't even remotely as easy to use, and the trend lines there aren't particularly encouraging.

Idiocy. Some things are complex and require more knowledge to use effectively than others not because they are poorly designed but because they are much more powerful and versatile. How many functions a typical representative of "consumer electronic" serves? Even a TV needs just on/off, channel up, channel down, volume up & down to operate (the rest is hardly used). Is anything more complex in the consumer electronic field?

What we have to do to shove this plain old truth down the underdeveloped journalistic cerebrums?

The $300 PC Martyrs (1, Interesting)

mrshowtime (562809) | more than 9 years ago | (#12801830)

One of the main reasons that we have cheap PC's can be traced back to the company "Emachines." God knows how many people bought an Emachines PC before they were bought by Dell and paid for their cheap PC with their hard earned cash, only for them to just plain die due to shitty-ass components. Emachines made HP and Compaq go "Oh shit, somebody finally figured us out; that it does not cost anything near the $3,000 we have been charging for a shitty-ass PC" Oh, and fuck Linux. If you hate Microsoft, just buy a Mactel now. :)
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