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PC’s Days as Main Internet Tool Numbered, IBM Guru Says

Friday, February 5, 1999

Publication: The London Free Press
Section: Business
by Michael McDonald, CP

The head of Internet technology at IBM Corp., the world’s largest computer maker, made a startling prediction yesterday.

John Patrick , speaking to a packed auditorium at Canada’s largest Internet trade show, said it will take only three years for the personal computer to be displaced as the No. 1 way to connect with cyberspace.

That could create a problem for IBM , which sold $4.8 billion worth of personal computer gear in Canada last year. But Patrick, who developed IBM ‘s ThinkPad brand, hardly seems worried.

Instead of PCs, he said, most Internet surfers will soon be using any number of high-tech and low-tech appliances, including TV sets, pagers, hand-held digital assistants and phones with tiny video screens.

Several countries in Europe and Asia have already invested in public Internet kiosks.

Patrick noted that the immense hype surrounding the Internet has led to a skewed impression of how widespread the technology has become.

Around the world, the number of people connected to the Internet currently “rounds off to zero,” he said.

“We’ve only just begun. But the evolution of the medium is happening at a breakneck pace.”

To prove his point, he offered several examples of some recent developments on the Web.

Instant messaging:

This software shows when friends or associates are online, allowing for instant communication. “Tens of millions are already using this — most are 15 and 16 years old,” Patrick said. The software can also instantly translate data between languages. During a demonstration, Patrick sent a message to a Spanish friend who wrote back in his native tongue. The software translated the message, then spoke in English using an synthesized voice. “There’s a tremendous opportunity here to reach across boundaries,” he said.

Business applications:

The vast majority of transactions on the Web don’t involve consumers. As an example of businesses-to-business deals conducted in cyberspace, Patrick pointed to a Web site run by IntraLinks, an underwriting firm that brings together lending institutions to finance business loans. “When the time comes to close the loan, all the signatures are handled digitally,” he said. The company, 18 months old, has already handled $150 billion US in loans.


Internet users will soon have to choose from many ways of hooking up to the network, most of which will be faster and more secure than the current options. To give his audience a sense of the capacity of the new technology, Patrick said that if the average telephone line was like a garden hose, then the new digital subscriber line (DSL) technology is like a metre-wide pipe that’s always on. Consumers will benefit from the competition as cable-TV operators vie with phone companies, satellite services and other wireless technologies.