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ULCPCs: I’m Still Laughing At That One



MeI was in tech week for our latest production of Driving Miss Daisy when the news came across the wires that Microsoft’s naming nannies had coined a new one. I laughed so hard I almost caused a technician to fall off a ladder. (I have a very loud and obnoxious laugh.) I’ve never seen such a humorous retreat and surrender than this nonsense about ULCPC. The ULCPC or Ultra-Low-Cost PC is the latest in Microsoft’s losing game of trying to play catch up with the mobile revolution that they tried to start with Tablet PCs. Of course they quickly retreated from their early start when the first reviews didn’t meet expectations and yielded the battleground to Apple, Nokia, Intel, Asus, and a host of others. The same thing happened to the UMPC. That’s the problem with releasing BETA hardware and not having a clue on how to market it. (First missed clue: devices that promise handheld mobility need to be put in potential customers hands.) I won’t even begin in this post to discuss that the ULCPC is the only platform that will continue to offer Windows XP through 2010, aside from pointing out the failed promises for mobile computing that were supposed to be unleashed by Vista.

I have to admit, I’m still laughing at this recent attempt. Lame doesn’t begin to describe it. I caught some heat awhile back when I blogged that the UMPC platform is quickly receding. Receding? I think Microsoft just buried the UMPC with a few extra syllables and hyphens on the tombstone. The ULCPC is trumpeted as a new class of device,  but it sure sounds eerily similar to the promise of the UMPC/Origami when it was first released. 

Let’s remember that the Microsoft raison d’être has been about software first and foremost (although that’s changing), and wants their software on those devices. The battle has shifted to a point where Linux is making gains (at least in mind-share and perception) with the promise of MIDs (still just a promise-releases and realistic assessments are still to come). Even HP’s promised new ultra-mobile will offer Linux variants. Asus rocked the non-Apple world with the Eee PC, and even though they are busy trying to launch more flavors of that little device than Baskin Robbins offers in ice cream, the big news is that consumers bought the original Linux version in numbers that changed the landscape. And then of course there is Apple, but I won’t repeat my well chronicled thoughts on that here.

So, let’s get down to brass tacks here. This, as it always has been, is about marketing pure and simple. In the same way that McDonald’s isn’t about burgers, Microsoft isn’t about software and is quickly becoming less so as it tries to get bigger footholds in the advertising game. Mobile devices are coming but they will be the razor. The blades will be advertising that pops up on all those free Internet services. Until (and if) Microsoft gets a hold in the advertising game, they still need to sell software. Now the marketing shifts from creating and supporting a new life-style platform to a two-fold strategy that:

  • Attempts to get Microsoft software onto a class of devices that Microsoft tried to create an environment for and failed to deliver on and,
  • Hyping price as the deciding factor.

The thing is, it will probably succeed. With no thanks to Microsoft.

P.S. I ran an informal survey at the theatre once I could do so with a straight face. I asked a simple question with no multiple choice answers. ““How much would you expect to pay for a mobile device called an ultra-low-cost PC?” While not scientific, the answers ranged from under $100 to $299. Might be too many hyphens after that ultra. Just a thought for the naming nannies. 

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