Things That Make You Go Hmmm

Revelations everyone should know about

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Been a month of interesting revelations for me, with people telling me things that have changed my views of various markets.

Consider revelation No. 1: A year ago, the premium you'd pay for a tablet PC compared to a comparably equipped standard-issue notebook computer was around $400. Today? Half as much. That's according to Mark Simons, general manager of Toshiba America Information Systems.

Simons, who runs the U.S. PC arm of Japan-based Toshiba, prides himself on keeping up with trends. I've written and spoken about him before and believe him to be as plugged into developments pertaining to notebooks as anyone in the business.

Simons is one of those guys who carries data points around with him, the kind that cut through the clutter and lead to the way of the future. The tablet trend portends better days ahead for the oft-maligned hardware--the Ethanol gasoline of the PC business.

Simons may be onto something. Consider Brian Russell, vice president of sales with Central Telecom, an Overland Park, Kan.-based solution provider, who sells Toshiba notebooks. About the time Simons was appealing me to consider the upside of the tablet PC, I met Russell. Forty percent of his systems sales are already from tablets, and he foresees a day when as much as 70 percent could be. Like next year.

Those revelations have caused me to rethink one of my long-held beliefs--that the tablet PC is an innovation in search of a purpose. After all, I've never see executives from the companies that make tablets actually using them themselves. And, as you know in IT, you can never fully trust a guy who won't eat his own dog food. Turns out, Simons and his team at Toshiba are chowing down.

Other startling revelations? How about this: The bad guys are gaining the upper hand. So says McAfee president Gene Hodges, who I met with recently in his Santa Clara, Calif.-based office. Nice, understated digs, right off Highway 101 in the heart of Silicon Valley. As much as Hodges hates to concede it, he says the IT industry is falling further behind in security. Let me restate that: The gap between what the industry can provide to protect businesses, governments and consumers and what the bad guys can do to wreak havoc is widening. Scary, especially when it comes from a guy whose company has done as much as any to reduce that gap. Sure, we have stopped or blunted the teen virus writer. But we've done little to effectively address organized crime.

"The threats out there today have gotten beyond mere mortals," he says somberly. "The biggest change has gone from lone wolves basically working to get recognition by others to now organized teams. Today, you could rent a group of hackers to take down some of the biggest targets out there. You simply could not do that two years ago."

Hodges says McAfee and its fellow security ISVs are doing what they can. But, he adds, industry and government are not moving fast enough to keep up. Some are complacent, based on the success rate security companies have had dealing with worms and viruses. However, other threats are mounting faster than can presently be addressed.

"Think spyware," Hodges says. "It was not that big a year ago. Today, it's more dangerous than viruses. The only other part of IT that moves at this speed is Internet commerce."

Who else had some surprising news for me? How about Rich Severa, president of MOCA, Arrow Electronics' Sun Microsystems-focused division.

Think Sun is tanking? Guess again. Severa says he'll sell more Sun servers this year than in 1999 and 2000--the boom years for Scott McNealy's company. Granted, the average selling prices of those units is less than five years ago. But the robustness is there, just the same.

"We've enjoyed nothing but solid, great growth within our Sun business; we're very encouraged by what we have seen over the past four to six quarters," Severa says. "The underreported story of the year is how well Sun servers are doing."

Nothing like a few conversations to change your way of thinking. Let me know what you have heard that has challenged a long-held tenet of yours, affirmed a belief that you were nervously clinging to, or simply gave you reason to smile. Can always use one of those.

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