It is this "gateway" role that PC makers see the consumer desktop PC playing in the not-too-distant future. It will, in practice, no longer be a desktop PC. Instead, the PC will be out of sight, acting as a gateway for broadband Internet and a server for files, such as MP3 music, all of which it serves up via a home network that is wired throughout a house or one that is enabled by wireless networking hardware.
Floating around this home server will be a number of devices. One such device will be a notebook PC, which will likely be connected wirelessly. But there will also be a multitude of networked appliances that call the PC server as well.
Dell showed off one such device at PC Expo: The Dell Digital Audio Receiver, a network appliance for accessing and playing MP3 or Windows Media Audio Files from a remote PC on a home stereo. Available in August, it will cost about $249 (£164) when purchased as a stand-alone product, less when purchased with a PC.
Dell officials said similar appliances for video would make sense as well.
For business, PCs will continue to play an important, although now much more mobile, role.
Officials at Dell, NEC and Hewlett-Packard said they plan to equip notebooks with either local-area or wide-area wireless hardware in the future.
Dell this fall will begin to equip each of its notebooks with an antenna for 802.11 local-area networking. The user can then just pop in a wireless networking card to establish a network connection. Over time, Dell officials said, the company is likely to start building local-area wireless networking abilities into the PC itself, as many PC makers have done with analog modems.
Companies will be just as flexible providing services around the PC. "There is no one-size-fits-all," said Steve Yon, director of marketing for Dell's Optiplex line of business. "We're a distribution channel to allow you to tune your business the way you want to tune it."
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