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Pundits' views differ on future of Internet, PCs

November 12, 1998
Web posted at: 12:00 PM EDT

by David Needle

(IDG) -- SANTA CLARA, CALIFORNIA -- Sometime in the next ten years, Internet access will be universal and cost next to nothing. Or it could be way more expensive.

Such was the ping-pong tenor of the debate among a panel of high tech experts discussing the Top 10 Trends for Post-PC World. Well-known analyst Esther Dyson was joined by venture capitalists John Doerr (Kleiner, Perkins, Caufield and Byers), Michael Moritz (Sequoia Capital) and Roger McNamee (Integral Partners), as well as editors of the investment magazine The Red Herring to debate the issues.

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Herring editors predict that within a decade, the cost of Internet access will drop to nearly zero and will include voice, data, and video services. Dyson immediately knocked that prediction down as she asserted the inevitability of levels of services. "We will have higher prices for better services and lower prices for less quality," says Dyson.

Doerr noted that video services are definitely coming on fast: "By the end of 1999 we will have a million people using broadband services." He said that while the higher speed of broadband makes video and other high bandwidth services more readily available than traditional phone dial up access, the "always on" nature of broadband (like television), is what will drive consumer demand.

"Nothing beats broadband for instant gratification," agreed Moritz.

Panelists agreed the PC is not about to die anytime soon, and that single and/or limited purpose devices (such as handheld computers and smart phones) are seriously challenging the PC's status as the driver of computer innovation. "Set-top computers such as WebTV, which combine Internet access and e-mail with limited computing functions, will prove popular. A single-purpose device is just much easier [to use]," says Doerr.

E-commerce will continue to develop, but has a lot of growing up to do first. McNamee says some traditional retailers are doing a terrible job of trying to sell their wares online.

"The evidence of what you can sell on the Web is not conclusive," says McNamee. "Have you seen the Toys R Us site? Never mind reaching Main Street, these guys can't get out of park."

He also slammed L.L. Bean's Web site, which he said "forces you to use the telephone." By contrast, McNamee praised, an Internet-only e-commerce site. Overall, in 1999 he says the big growth in e-commerce will be in business-to-business web sites, not consumer sites.

Moritz and Dyson assert that the Linux operating system could prove to be one of the most important innovations of all as "hordes of programmers" work to develop applications for the so-called open source operating system, which is more accessible than Microsoft Windows since its source code is freely available. "Open source turns your customers into your developers," says Dyson. "It's a fundamental change."

McNamee says voice recognition has come farther on the PC than he expected, but it will be many years before other devices can incorporate it at low cost -- except for very high-end cars.

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