Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 06/87 item 01 - scanned

How to add value to a handle for PC dealers

By David Tebbutt

Sometimes I curse the title of this newspaper. Every week, I spend a lot of my time talking to individuals and companies who really would not regard themselves as PC dealers. They neither sell PCs - the name IBM hijacked and tried to turn into its personal property - nor do they regard themselves as dealers, despite its convenience as an umbrella term.

It is hard to think of a title which is both catchy and which accurately defines our target reader.

An ever-growing slice of our audience could best be described as suppliers of complete information systems, in which the personal computer may happen to play a part. The system might be a network or a multi-user system using PCs for the main processing power or as its workstations.

The important thing is that they're not simple plug-in and go systems. Most require the application of intellect in the form of customisation, bespoke programming, skilled installation, training and support. And the sort of money the user expects to pay is well beyond the reach of the average PC buyer.

Ignoring the possible arrival of ultra-intelligent machines (at which point we might as well all give up), we will create the successful computer businesses of the future through the sale of services based on brainpower. The fact that you're moving iron is almost irrelevant.

We all know what's happening to hardware margins. I've even had manufacturers telling me that they expect only a third of their income to come from hardware in a few years' time. The customer is buying your technical and business skills, applied to his problems.

So why on earth did we call this newspaper PC Dealer? The answer probably lies in the untidy alternatives.

There's nothing very catchy about System Supplier, Systems House, Systems Integrator or VAR, although any one of these might be more accurate than the name we've got. At least by calling it PC Dealer, we're being utterly fair - everyone moans about it.

If we were to home in on one of the alternatives, it would be bound to please some more than others. And, anyway, we mustn't forget that we've still got traditional dealers who have yet to make their move upmarket.

The important thing is for you to know that we know who you really are. And anyway, what sort of statement do the titles Punch, The Guardian or Dalton's Weekly make about their target audiences?

Returning to dealers who haven't yet made their move, a word or two of warning might be in order.

The first thing to note is that life will never be the same as it was in the days of selling PCs. They were easy to install and fun to use. Multi-user computing can be pretty dull by comparison.

Anyone hooked to a central machine through a serial link will have to forego the jazzy graphics and animation of the PC for more mundane character graphics or worse.

One day, fibre optic technology will give the terminal/workstation user the power and excitement currently associated with PCs but, for a while anyway, we're going to have to face a return to the user interfaces which were common on PCs four or five years ago.

Users whose workstations happen to be personal computers have the best of both worlds. And, no doubt, this is the market that IBM, Dell, Amstrad and all the others are eyeing greedily. If they can supply PCs at terminal prices, the attraction to users should be irresistible.

What we shouldn't forget though, is that the centrally controlled, corporate information system is still only accessible through low-speed serial links, which condemn users to an old-fashioned style of computing.

This is probably why IBM have two main operating systems. OS/2 with Presentation Manager (eventually) for PC type working and AIX for group working. And this is why DOS exists for true PC work and Xenix/Unix is emerging as a strong standard for everything else.

But, by early next year, an 80386 version of Unix which will be compatible with Xenix, Unix and DOS should hit the streets. Any applications written under any of Unix V, Xenix 2.2. and DOS should run under this new 'unified' version of the operating system.

I mention this because it shows that there is some sort of light at the end of the dark and confusing tunnel we currently inhabit.

Remember 1982, when the Sirius came into this country with the first 8088-based system? It came with a facility to run CP/M-80 programs, which was what most of the power users were into in those days.

That way, the users' transition to true 16 bit computing was spread over a sensible timescale.

In a similar way the new AT & T/Microsoft -sponsored version of Unix might just give today's PC dealer and his clients a route into the future based on what they understand today.