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Cheap Laptop? Sure!

The Consumer Electronics Show, which starts Tuesday in Las Vegas, will probably be the most important technology tradeshow on the planet this year. Which says as much about the current sad, sorry state of corporate IT as anything else. After a decade when the innovation -- and the big bucks -- were to be found in corporate computing, the center of gravity has shifted to the consumer.
The Consumer Electronics Show, which starts Tuesday in Las Vegas, will probably be the most important technology tradeshow on the planet this year. Which says as much about the current sad, sorry state of corporate IT as anything else. After a decade when the innovation -- and the big bucks -- were to be found in corporate computing, the center of gravity has shifted to the consumer.

Part of the reason may well be buyer fatigue: the big companies have cut up their IT departments' credit cards. Part of it may also be technology saturation: businesses are as computerized as they want to get. They've already got a desktop PC on every desk, a laptop in every briefcase, and a BlackBerry in every pocket. Enough, already.

But a big part of it is the experience curve. The consumer market is hot because products are hitting price points consumers are willing to meet.I'll make a fearless prediction: You will buy a laptop computer this year. Why? Because at these prices you won't be able to resist. For $400 or so you won't get heavy-duty number-crunching or video rendering, but how much of that do you -- or your wife or husband or son or daughter -- do? Not much. You'll use it for light productivity apps, word processing and email and Web browsing, and as a media terminal: You'll set it up in the living room or the family room and connect it to your wireless network to pull MP3 files and family photos from your desktop machine in the den, to give the kids a machine they can use for games and IMing their friends and even play a DVD on, and keep them off of yours so you can get your work done. And for your $400 you'll be part of the trend that will drive computer sales in 2006, according to the market stats elves at IDC.

Desktop Pipeline's Best Bits columnist Bill O'Brien didn't have much good to say about these low-priced laptops in his holiday Guide to Gift PCs ("Trust me," he wrote, "an $800 portable is about as low as you want to go and, even then, performance will only be comparable to other similarly priced machines.")

But I think he's missing the point. I was in a couple of Fry's stores last last week in California and I was surprised they hadn't stocked cheap laptops in the checkout lanes along with the flash drives and candy bars, because at these prices laptops become impulse purchases.

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