Commentary

Technology Press Re-Boot

The owners of the Comdex trade show filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Monday. By Tuesday, both its former owner, Sheldon Adelson, and a leading publisher, Alan Meckler, had announced plans to compete with Comdex this year, in Las Vegas, the same week as the flagship show.

These two were on Comdex like lions on an antelope, or at least like ants on a cantaloupe. They were tearing at the carcass when it wasn’t even dead yet, let alone waiting for its burial.

This is very good news. It’s an early indication of life in the technology market. So is this, Dig-IT. It’s a new magazine from computer publishing veterans Fred Davis and David Bunnell. Their goal is to make technology cool again.

Over the last few years, technology has become just-another consumer product. PCs, software, and communications services have been sold much like cola or shampoo. Network TV and general interest magazines now depend on 30-second spots from Dell, Apple and Gateway, or AOL and MSN, just as they plan for and look for the ad schedules of Coca-Cola or Proctor & Gamble.

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But the maturity of a technology product isn’t stable, the way soft drinks and cleaning products are stable.

The reason is Moore’s Law. Moore’s Law drives prices down relentlessly. The deflation of Moore’s Law can be fought, by making software more top-heavy, and by adding new "must have" capabilities to the product bundle. Microsoft has mastered this over the years.

But not even Microsoft can stand when you go from doubling millions to doubling billions. You can find ways to waste another 20 or 200 MHz of speed, doing the same old thing more simply. It’s harder to find ways to waste the 3-4 GHz of speed today’s chips deliver.

As a result prices keep falling. The average PC used to cost $2,000. Now you can get one for $500. The same thing is happening in communications. Dial-up service has become a commodity. Even broadband is fast becoming a commodity. And the dial-up leaders haven’t found a way into the broadband mass-market.

But what’s good for consumers isn’t good for the technology market. For that market to thrive, we need new, cool, complex, geeky, and (best of all) expensive stuff, the kinds of things gadget freaks can salivate over.

With three shows and a new magazine prowling the technology world for new ideas, perhaps this stuff will finally emerge. It’s messy. It’s expensive. It takes specialists to understand it all. It leaves old folks scratching their heads.

But once, not so long ago, that described Windows and the Macintosh.

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