Technology's ever-changing bet

Technology is all about adapting to change.

Just a few years ago I was:


Teaching my elderly uncle to drive an automatic transmission car, his first after a lifetime of stick shifts: "No, no, it's really easy, leave that shifter alone and let your foot relax!"

Instructing my father in use of a microwave oven: "No, no, it's really easy, forget those extra settings, they're for gourmet microwave chefs, just push these buttons here!"


The transition to computers also provided trying moments.

The earliest "VDTs" (video display terminals, as they were usually called) that I used in the newsroom were connected to mainframes that crashed frequently, obliterating stories.

I later covered out-of-town events lugging a suitcased "portable" computer. To send stories, you placed the phone handset into a "coupler" that emitted a weird transmission sound.

I purchased an early personal computer for my home. By today's standards, it had a brain smaller than that of a brontosaurus. The manual was as helpful as a bicycle assembly pamphlet on a Christmas morning.

A continuous theme of technology is the battle for the hearts and minds of consumers. I was, for example, on hand for the breakthrough introduction of the Apple Macintosh and the hands-on demonstrations the company provided to acquaint journalists with the "mouse."

Because I've owned both Apples and PCs over the years, in the eyes of the purists I am a turncoat. Apple was more user-friendly, though it caused some compatibility problems.

IBM PC compatibles have long dominated home and business computer markets, while Apple has shown strength in graphics and educational markets.

Apple Computer's stock price rose immediately after its recent announcement that it is offering software to allow Microsoft's Windows operating system to run on its new Macs.


In the past that move would have been heresy, but stick around long enough and you'll see darned near everything.

The issue is whether that decision will actually improve Apple's computer market share, which still matters even though the company has diversified into iPods and other products.

Computers are now commodities, with pricing or innovation providing a temporary edge. Because of risk and volatility, no computer company receives an across-the-board "buy" rating from analysts.

While Apple receives a consensus "buy," it includes six "strong buys," 11 "buys" and 10 "holds," according to Thomson Financial.

The consensus on rivals Dell Inc. and Hewlett-Packard Co. is midway between "buy" and hold." Dell receives seven "strong buys," 10 "buys" and 15 "holds." Hewlett-Packard has 10 "strong buys," nine "buys," 10 "holds" and one "underperform."

The success of these companies rests on how well they adapt to the same changes that they've introduced to consumers. Technology is never easy on anybody.


Andrew Leckey writes for Tribune Media Services.