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PC Magazine -- May 16, 1995
(No longer available on PCMag site, so this is a local copy)

Trends & Technology Shaping the Personal Computer Market

--Carol Levin

GREG BLONDER, DIRECTOR OF THE Human-Centered Engineering Research Lab at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, is investigating what people want to do with computers in the future. He believes that lack of innovation is stalling the PC industry, and has some interesting ideas about what's needed to jump start it. His theory of "dominant design" raises a warning flag: No one is innovating; they're just imitating.

PC Magazine: Where will the next big breakthroughs in computing come from?

Greg Blonder: Because of the "groupthink" that goes on in the PC industry, real innovation is going to come from a different industry or from some other platform. It could come from television, Hollywood, the communications industry, or from somewhere entirely unexpected. The innovation driver may be a product or service for constant two-way communications. Wireless technology might make a difference in what the operating system ought to be. When you talk about portable devices with communications, that's not at all like DOS or Windows. It's about lightweight systems with an entirely different view of what matters. That could be it.

PCM: What will computers look like in the future?

G.B.: Computers are going to make fundamental changes in our behavior, but we won't think of them as computers because they'll be invisible. These hidden computers will provide experts' advice and projections about the future, something computers are getting very good at now. You might be an architect licensed in New Jersey, and you get a contract to build a house in New York. The expert system will tell you the changes you have to make in order to meet all the zoning codes in New York. It's an absolutely predictive problem that a computer can handle very well.

PCM: Will on-line services continue to grow rapidly?

G.B.: Despite all the hype, there are no more than 5 million people who use the Internet or on-line services in a robust way on a daily basis. What are the other millions of households going to do with this capability? People have always done more or less the same things except in different venues. As more users got involved, they've completely warped the Internet so that it's now a communications medium. It's a sign that people mold computers in their own image rather than the other way around.

PCM: Why do you think that innovation is stalling in the PC industry?

G.B.: Surprisingly, one of the reasons why computers aren't innovative is because the marketplace for computers has perfect communication between all the users.

The Japanese came up with a different way of building cars because they were 10,000 miles away from Detroit. They had a different environment around them, and it forced them to do things differently. But the computer industry is on the opposite side of the spectrum. It sounds silly to say that perfect communication is bad, but I genuinely think that's why there's such a paucity of innovation. What happens is that oddball software hardly ever gets a chance to get a foothold. There used to be a difference between DOS and Apple, which gave people a reason to choose. Then Microsoft copied the design, made Windows dominant, and now there's no choice. Dominant designs aren't always efficient. They often arise through the happenstance of history. It's very difficult to displace the dominant design.

Contact Greg Blonder by email here - Modified Genuine Ideas, LLC.