Business-like, isn't he?



Columbia Journal

    No-Logo Computers

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2004 First published in Columbia Journal March 2004

    What’s the most popular computer brand? Dell? HP? IBM? Apple? How about ‘none of the above’; in recent surveys the correct answer was ‘other’, with over 50% of the results internationally and over a third in the US. (Sorry, no Canada-specific results).

    In other words, NoLogo-branded computers beat out every individual computer brand in the US, and internationally beat out all the brand names put together.

    How has this triumph for the anti-brand name forces occurred? The answers stretch far back to the first IBM brand-name PC in 1981. This IBM PC (Model 5150) was not the first personal computer; Apple had been successfully selling its Apple II model for several years following in the footsteps of other, less well-known computers.

    IBM wasn’t sure that there was really much of a market for these new sorts of computers. And so, while most IBM products were proprietary, they developed their PC on the quick, using existing, off-the-shelf hardware and hiring software development company, Microsoft for the operating system.

    Microsoft licensed DOS to IBM, keeping the right to sell the operating system to others.

    The IBM PC’s success surprised even IBM.  A PC from ‘Big Blue’ had credibility with corporate America. If IBM made it, it was OK to have (in the words of Bill Gates) “a computer on every desktop and in every home”. Other companies quickly realized they could cash in, building their own hardware using those standard parts. If it could run Microsoft’s DOS, it was ‘IBM compatible’, letting users run the same software that ran on a real IBM. Pretty soon, PC ‘clones’ were faster, more powerful, and cheaper than IBM’s originals.

    Most of those early brand names are no longer in business. Building computers is easy; marketing is hard, particularly in an industry where it doesn’t take much to get started. (Michael Dell, founder of Dell Computers, one of the survivors, got started at university, selling PCs to other students in his dorm). Only a handful of companies remain selling PCs world-wide: US-based Dell, IBM, Gateway (which is in the process of buying out eMachines), HP (which merged with Compaq a year or so ago). Japanese corporations: Sony, NEC, Toshiba. Taiwan’s Acer. Apple survives by going its own way, selling non-IBM compatible computers.

    While Michael Dell went from selling computers to his dorm-mates to building the biggest computer brand in the US, literally thousands of small businesses popped up building and selling PCs on a local level. In Vancouver today, it’s hard to throw a rock without hitting a computer retailer.

    Most of these shops build computers in the back, fitting together generic motherboards, processors, memory with hard drives and CD burners or DVD drives, and fitting the whole thing in a case. Slap the store’s name on the front, plug in a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, and you’ve got a PC, ready to install the operating system and software. (In most cases, that’s Microsoft Windows and Office—ironically combining Microsoft’s  brand name software with the thousands of varieties of NoLogo PCs, though the NoLogo clones can just as easily run free, non-corporate branded operating systems like Linux and open source software like Mozilla and OpenOffice).

    While it takes billions of dollars and years of research to create a new CPU—the brains of a computer, assembling a computer from parts isn’t rocket science. At my school, several 10 years olds learned to do it, and now (as mature students of 12) are showing the next generation how to do it.

    Whether assembled by a 10 year old grade 5 student or your corner PC store, the resulting NoLogo PC uses the same parts as a Big Brand Name model, and can offer equal (or better) performance and reliability.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan