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PC World

PC pay-by-the-month clubs

November 4, 1999
Web posted at: 9:47 a.m. EST (1447 GMT)

by David Needle

(IDG) -- Hoping to answer the call of small businesses for reliable, hassle-free computing, Everdream officially launched its version of a pay-by-the-month PC/Internet service on Tuesday.

The Mountain View, California, startup company's "subscription computing" concept isn't new. For years, large corporations have enlisted the aid of consulting companies and sometimes computer manufacturers themselves to contract for computer services that include hardware, software, and network support. What is new is extending the same type of around-the-clock service to the low end of the small-business market.

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"Our purpose is to make computers solve problems, not create them," says Gary Griffiths, chief executive of Everdream.

For $150 per month (including a 30-month contract commitment), customers get an Everdream-branded PC running a Pentium III 450-MHz processor with 128MB of RAM, a 13GB hard drive, a 40X CD-ROM drive, an Intel Ethernet adapter, and a 17-inch monitor. Preloaded software includes Microsoft Windows 98, Outlook 2000, the Small Business Edition of Microsoft's Office 2000, Intuit's Quicken or QuickBooks accounting software, and Symantec's Act contact-management program.

Web-based training courses on six major applications are also included. The system comes with diagnostic software developed by Everdream that's designed to analyze and "self-heal" problems with the system as well as assist technical support staff.

"We will never pass you off to another service provider [for support]," says Griffiths. "If you have a problem with MS Word for example, or the Internet, we take of it."

Everdream is currently only available in Northern California. The company plans to roll out nationally sometime next spring. Another Silicon Valley company launched a service similar in concept to Everdream's last month, and its chief executive scoffs at any comparisons.

"We provide enterprise-class service, not toy class," says Sheldon Laube, chair and chief executive officer of CenterBeam Inc.

For prices starting at $165 per month per user, CenterBeam customers get a name-brand computer such as Compaq running Windows NT, MS Office, a local server and connection to a private network, and the Internet at a minimum of 384 kilobits-per-second (a Digital Subscriber Line connection).

"What small business wants is a stable environment, and how you do that is that you take an enterprise approach and provide real industrial-strength servers with a data center that's watching the network and managing every customer," says Laube. Like Everdream, CenterBeam is also only offering service in California. The company plans to be available in 20 major cities next year.

On the national level, PC maker and direct seller Micron has recently begun using the term "subscription computing" for its own monthly PC and service program. Griffiths derides the MicronPC program as just another name for a hardware lease that's inferior to Everdream because it relies on third-party support.

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