Vendors pushing unfinished hardware
October 5, 1999
by Eric Bender
(IDG) -- Twice in the past week Dell has mailed me slick brochures about its latest Pentium III-600 consumer desktops. And if I were looking for a high-end PC, I'd be very interested in the snazzy new beasts.
Just one problem: These machines are not actually for sale, nor is it clear that they ever will be.
Like many other system vendors, Dell got caught in the debacle of Intel's next-generation 820 chip set. Designed to bring a 133-MHz system bus, RamBus memory, and other cool stuff to a grateful world, the 820 was pulled off the market just days before the scheduled September 27 announcement. (The problem seems to be memory bugs with the third RamBus slot. We're still checking out reports of up to a million motherboards that must be scrapped by various vendors, although Dell says it has not actually built any 820-based PCs to date.)
I can't remember any last-minute melt of an Intel announcement quite as dramatic as this. And we in the press can't throw too many stones: The next issues of PC World and other computer magazines will be stocked with stories and ads about these machines that basically don't exist.
But these brochures, from a company as efficient and responsible as Dell, show the dangers of "living in Internet time," for customers as well as vendors.
We're seeing loads of products unveiled as if you can buy them long before they are cooked, and many of these instances are far more annoying than those missing Dell machines.
Last Monday, Compaq ran big ads claiming that all Windows NT Deskpros are now completely ready for Windows 2000. Sorry, but that's not possible. I'm sure Compaq is doing massive system testing with Windows 2000, but the shipping version of Windows 2000 does not exist. When it does arrive in volume next year, we'll see a whole slew of bugs, some fairly major; that's inevitable for a product so complex and so widely distributed.
You also can point to far more grievous sins among start-ups this year, such as Microworkz taking payments for PCs that it had no clue how to deliver.
Other examples are downright amusing, like Microsoft two weeks ago announcing that it had shipped the beta of Windows Millennium, also known as Windows 98 Third Edition. Even this was premature: Microsoft didn't push the beta out the door until last Tuesday.
Silliest of all are the deluge of ads and press releases from Internet startups that don't seem to have hired programmers or anyone to answer the phone or e-mail. A few haven't even bought the domain names they tout.
Memo to industry: Give us a break!
Pretty unlikely, eh?
While I'm twiddling my thumbs waiting to hear the fate of these 820-based machines, I think I'll drop off the Dell brochures at the Boston Computer Museum. They are true artifacts of what buyers face in these speed-mad times.
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