The Free PC syndrome

By : |May 11, 1999 0

The reverend PC goes free
Bill Gross’s IdeaLabs created quite a storm sometime ago with their Free PC
( offer. The scheme was simple. You furnish some personal information
through their web site, and sit back and wait for a brand new Compaq computer (with
unlimited Internet access, of course) to arrive at your doorstep. The information would be
used in targeting relevant advertisements at the user. The PC would be sponsored by the
advertisers whose ads would always occupy some portion of the desktop.

It’s not just about media
One school of thought complains that the Free PC sets a bad precedent for aggressive
marketing on the Web. The Internet was meant to be more than a replacement for the
television, they argue. Whereas one is forced to watch programmes aired by a channel at a
given time, the Internet introduced the concept of information-on-demand. The former media
belonged to advertisers while the latter to the users. With the advent of the Free PC, the
ball is in the advertisers court, say critics.

Such apprehensions are unnecessary. It has been
historically proved that technology spurs industry, and vice versa. Look at it this way:
With the TV, you were forced to watch whatever ad came your way. IdeaLabs’ promises
to target only relevant ads to the customers. How relevant the ads are is based on the
information you provide. If advertisers can reach their target audience effectively, and I
can make more of my necessary purchases online, why not? It’s a win-win situation.

Will it work in India?
Just for the record, Free PCs are not entirely new in India! There are institutes
that let you take home a computer when you sign up with them for a course. The PC, with a
100-hour Internet account, is yours till the end of the course.

Says Business Week (19.04.99), "The influx of
"free-PC" promotions threatens to snuff out the already embattled PC market, as
industry leaders Dell, Compaq, IBM, and Hewlett-Packard scramble to expand beyond
conventional hardware." In the US, a computer averages to a week’s wages. The
same PC in India will set you back by 3 to 6 month’s salary. Thus, the Free PC
ideology is well-suited for India. In such a game, the PC giants will be the major
players, no doubt. However, the games won’t begin until effective cyber laws are
implemented, and RBI clears the decks for e-commerce. Small-scale manufacturers will rule
the roost so long as cost remains a significant factor. Until these issues are sorted out,
the dream offer remains just that — a dream. 

The Bottom Line
The Free PC promises to bring the Internet to those who would have otherwise missed out on
the experience. It is more than just a marketing gimmick. When everybody, irrespective of
economic status, is wired, it becomes an instrument of social change. However, the
economic climate that prevails in India, and the fact that we are not equipped against
cyber frauds, will prove to be a deterrent against any such change.

Will the Free PC concept be the thing to bring
computing to the masses in India, or is it too far fetched? Email us with your thoughts.

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