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Internet Access

Tuesday, March 30, 1999

The Globe and Mail
Journalist : Terrence Belford

Going on-line? Kiss your PC goodbye In as little as three years, a whole range of other appliances — from TV sets to pocket pagers and cell phones — will likely displace computers as the No. 1 way to surf the Web.

WHEN IT comes to Internet access, you can start kissing your desktop or portable computer goodbye. In just three years, the PC will likely be displaced as the No. 1 way to surf the Web.

Instead, you’ll be able to use an amazing range of high-tech and low-tech appliances: TV sets, pocket pagers, palm-size digital assistants — even cellphones, complete with tiny video screens.

All of them will allow you to buy and sell, and conduct most other forms of business, via the Internet: everything from ordering a pizza through the living room TV to doing your banking through your pager.

That’s the future, according to John Patrick . Now Vice-President of Internet Technology at IBM Corp.’s head office in Somers, N.Y., he’s the man who launched the company’s ThinkPad line of portable computers and helped create its leasing business. Today, it’s his job to test the Internet winds and point the giant technology company in the right direction. He predicts revolutionary change in the way people connect with the Internet and how it’s used.

“The Internet is dramatically changing everything,” he says. “E-commerce is just the tip of the iceberg. E-business is the larger thought. The Web will enable all forms of transactions affecting all constituencies. Click and you’ll apply for a new job. Click and you’ll pull up a recipe for tonight’s dinner. Click and you’ll reserve a pair of tickets for the theatre.

“And you’ll be able to do all this anywhere at any time through a whole range of new devices.”

This doesn’t mean the PC is dead, he’s quick to add.

“We’re rapidly moving to an age in which the Internet and the technology to access it will be so pervasive that people won’t think twice about it. We won’t know or care about things like operating systems. In essence, we’ll always be connected in some form or other and the Internet will be as much a part of everyone’s daily life as television and telephones.”

There are statistics to back his case. Consider the proliferation of cellular phones. According to the Gartner Group, a U.S.-based research organization, 100 million cellular handsets were sold worldwide in 1997, compared with 70 million PCs. Hambrecht & Quist, of New York, N.Y., another research firm, predicts the market for cellphones, pagers and pocket secretaries will grow by 30 per cent a year to $1.2-billion (U.S.) annually by 2001.

Jupiter Communications, also of New York, predicts that 16 per cent of Internet access will be through non-PC devices by the end of 2000. What’s more, International Data Corp. of New York says non-PC type devices will account for half of all Web-enabled units shipped by 2002.

Being on the mark is critical for a company like IBM , which sold about $4.8-billion worth of computing equipment in Canada last year.

“We’re a technology provider,” Mr. Patrick says. “We’ll be a part of the revolution.

“For example, we have our own microchip that will find its way into these devices. In fact, technology we’re using today is making that future possible.”

He also cites the active matrix screens on the new ThinkPads. The technology delivers a picture so crisp and highly defined that screens can be made much smaller without losing clarity. This clears the way to extremely tiny screens that can be viewed through optical devices instead of directly. IBM , in fact, has created a prototype of a wearable, Internet-enabled computer using this approach.

As electronic business booms, IBM will also be ready for Web shoppers who prefer using bank debit cards or cheques instead of credit cards.

“We have ready today software that allows instant clearing of debit card transactions,” Mr. Patrick says. “We have an electronic cheque application. We even have software that allows you to use your debit card to get E-money for Internet transactions. (E-money is electronic, or digital money that can be purchased from vendors like banks and used to pay for Internet purchases.) “They’re all in anticipation of being able to conduct E-commerce anywhere, any time and with almost any standard form of payment.”

And for those who have neither PC, digital interactive TV, nor Web-enabled cell phone or pager?

“That won’t be a problem. There’ll be kiosks right on the street as transactions proliferate.”