Do 'engineering masterpieces' really sell?

Summary:In the technology world, folks tend to get carried away. We want more memory, more processing power, more speed, more graphics and damn near more of everything.

In the technology world, folks tend to get carried away. We want more memory, more processing power, more speed, more graphics and damn near more of everything.

Nevermind that we don't use half of these newfangled features. In technology, it's all about the engineering and typically that means packing on as many features as possible. The big question is whether this approach will work with customers on the consumer and corporate side of the fence. Luckily, a series of events are about to come together that will illustrate how much (or how little) engineering masterpieces matter. 

The engineering masterpiece term was used by research firm iSuppli to describe the Playstation 3. You could also connect the dots and assume the masterpiece is a synonym for money losing. "With the PlayStation 3, you are getting the performance of a supercomputer at the price of an entry-level PC," said Andrew Rassweiler, teardown services manager and senior analyst for iSuppli in a report. The report continues to note that the "dissection reveals the PlayStation 3 is an engineering masterpiece that sets a new high mark for computing price/performance."

The cost to Sony: $306.85. That's the difference between 20GB Playstation 3's retail cost and production costs based on iSuppli's teardown. What could happen: Sony sees a strong start and then the price tag limits more buying. Memo to corporate IT departments: Find a way to use these things. Sony is giving you more bang for the buck than your PC vendor. Even if you can't think of a good corporate use for the Playstation rest easy because IBM is going to be pitching you hard on its chip--The Cell--in the not too distant future. 

Another big technology milestone coming down the pike--although the masterpiece term will be debated if not shot down instantly--is Microsoft's Vista. This oft-delayed OS is going to be more secure, offer better graphics and generally be pretty snazzy. The question: Is Vista overdone? Could Vista have been made more simple and to the point. Microsoft has a tendency to bloat things up--do you even know what half of those Word commands are? Redmond's OS masterpiece is either going to trigger a big technology upgrade cycle or customers are going to reckon that XP is enough. You can bet CIOs are going to hold back a bit. Further evidence of whether the yet-another-feature approach will work will be revealed in sales of Zune and Office 2007.

Even engineering masterpieces built around a simple concept can tend to get complicated. To wit: Salesforce.com tapped a nice market with the concept that no one wants to go through the pain of installing a CRM application. Even the motto--"No Software"--is simple. But Salesforce.com couldn't resist the engineering pull. It runs off and creates a software language (as if we didn't have enough of those already.) So far Salesforce.com's simplicity is selling well, but let's see if the company can refrain from the bloat.

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Topics: Salesforce.com

About

Larry Dignan is Editor in Chief of ZDNet and SmartPlanet as well as Editorial Director of ZDNet's sister site TechRepublic. He was most recently Executive Editor of News and Blogs at ZDNet. Prior to that he was executive news editor at eWeek and news editor at Baseline. He also served as the East Coast news editor and finance editor at CN... Full Bio

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