Multimedia technology to be cornerstone of tomorrow’s PC

It’s a rainy morning in May 1994. Still cursing the traffic, a user rushes into his cube, flips on his PC and hits the space bar to quickly bypass the PC’s lest of its 12M bytes of RAM.

The 19-inch color monitor springs to life. An icon of a tape recorder begins rewinding as the PC automatically backs up critical data on the 378M-by te hard drive to a rewritable optical drive.

Before the user takes off his coat, a video image of his boss’ head pops up onscreen and his voice comes out of the PC’s built-in speaker: “Planning meeting at 8:45 — try to make it this time, OK?” The image is replaced by a map of the office with a flashing red line leading from the user’s cube to the appropriate conference room.

Welcome to desktop computing in 1994.

This PC — with its built-in multimedia capabilities, faster processor, high RAM capacity, industrial-strength storage and workstation-like graphics — is the PC that vendors, analysts and users predict will appear on desktops within three years.

The big difference between 1994 and now they say, is that multimedia capabilities will be built in.

“By 1994, trying to buy a computer without basic multimedia capabilities will be like trying to buy a car in Texas with no air conditioning,” predicted Ed Judge, director of market planning for PC maker Tandy Corp.

“Full-motion video will be standardized”, said Michael Krieger, senior manager of advanced product marketing at PC maker AST Research Inc. “Multimedia will be widespread. Secretaries will be watching ‘Days of Our Lives’ in a little window in the corner of their screen while writing a letter on the rest of it.”

The desktop standard for CPUs will be Intel Corp’s 486 or even its forthcoming 586, observers said, rather than RISC processors from such vendors as Sun Microsystems Inc or MIPS Computer Systems Inc, or the alliance of Apple Computer Inc, IBM and Motorola Inc.

“In 1995, the majority [of PCs] are still probably going to be CISC-based 486,” said Gary Stimac, senior vice-president of system engineering for Compaq Computer Corp.

David Evancha, director of research for market researcher, Workgroup Technologies Inc concurs. “Until there’s a dominant standard, the movement to RISC will be inhibited,” he said.

By 1994, RAM and disk-storage prices will fall low enough that deciding how much memory to add to a system will become “almost a non-issue,” said JackCoopcr, vice-president and chief information officer for Joseph E Seagram Inc, a New York-based distiller.

With all this storage available, vendors will bundle automatic data backup into operating systems, said observers.

And as storage capacities rise, the typical form factor for storage devices will shrink. Market researcher Dataquest Inc predicts that 2.5-inch hard drives will dominate the market by 1994.

‘The advantage of 2.5-inch drives to systems markers is a lower power requirement,” said Jim porter, president of Disk/Trend Inc, a market-research firm. “Also, their heat [production] is less, so desktops can be designed without fans.”

The trend towards shrinking components will affect the size of 1994 PCs as well. As vendors turn to the smaller components found in today’s laptops and notebooks, the size of the chassis housing the PC’s CPU and disk drives will shrink to that of a three-ring binder, predicted Leonard Liu, chairman and CEO of Acer Corp.

Yet full-powered PCs will still be available in a continuum of sizes, observers predicted, ranging from palmtops such as Hewlett-Packard Co’s 95LX through notebooks and traditional desktop units.

The size and resolution of display, however, will grow instead of shrink. Most observers said 15-, 17- or even 19- inch monitors with workstation-like graphics will become a necessity for navigating around multi-windowed environments,

“Graphics are going to be l,024-by-768, maybe higher,” added Compaq’s Stimac.

One area that will be as important, but slower to improve in terms of hardware, is connectivity. Although many vendors and analysts predict that cellular telephone links will become a standard feature of notebook PCs and that built-in LAN adapters will become commonplace on desktops, the real gains in connectivity will have to wait for advances in software, observers said.

“Hardware will be the easiest” area in which to make networking advances, said Seagram’s Cooper. “Software will be the more taxing area.”

— Robert L Scheier

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