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Offer of free computer isn't totally without a price
By JIM BROOKS
Like my dad used to tell me, there's no such thing as a free lunch. But that adage doesn't exactly apply these days to computers. In fact, it's quickly becoming a sure-fire way to start a World Wide Web stampede.
Free-PC.com opened the doors to its Web site on Monday, Feb. 8, offering 10,000 free 333-MHz Compaq Presario PCs with free Internet access to customers willing to divulge personal information and demographic details about themselves.
There's a catch (isn't there always?) about the free PC -- recipients will have continual ads displayed in borders around the computer's monitor screen. The ads will be displayed any time the computer and monitor are turned on.
It's these ads that Free-PC.com is counting on to make the free computer plan pay -- by offering advertisers the ability to selectively target their ads to specific demographic groups.
The ads will be stored on the computer's hard drives before they ship, and updated whenever the user goes online.
Another drawback involves a loss of privacy; Free-PC.com will monitor and record users' Web surfing habits and interests when using the free computer. This information will allow advertisers to more effectively market their products and services.
Some industry analysts say the company is overlooking the dim view the public has of invasion of privacy for advertising purposes.
Is it a price worth paying just to get a free computer out of the deal?
Apparently a lot of people think it is.
More than 300,000 people applied for one of the free PCs at the company's Web site and by telephone on Monday, Feb. 8, the day the offer was first announced.
Free-PC.com will process the applications during the next 90 days and pick recipients, according to a Reuters story.
As of Friday, the company was still accepting applications online at www.free-pc.com.
FREE MACS, TOO. Macintosh fans aren't being left out of the free-computer frenzy that seems to be making waves in Internet circles these days.
New York-based One Stop Communications is offering 25,000 free Apple iMac computers to users willing to spend at least $100 a month for 36 months at its online mall.
Users are required to also use One Stop as their Internet service provider (the $19.95 monthly charge is waived if you chalk up more than $200 in spending at the online mall, called Shopss.com, on the Web at www.shops.com).
Shoppers must spend a minimum of $100 per month; if that amount isn't reached, the consumer is charged $100 anyway.
By Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2,500 people had signed up in the first two hours after the offer was unveiled. The total investment to receive the free iMac is $3,600 -- a higher investment certainly than Free-PC.com.
Stop by and check it out at the Web site, www.compubag.com.
COMPUTERS EVERYWHERE. It should come to no surprise to anyone that more U.S. households are adding personal computers to their "must-have" list of appliances.
As of the end of 1998, 50 percent of U.S. households have a PC, according to a new study released last week by Dataquest.
Compare that to just three years ago, when PCs were found in just 27 percent of U.S. households. In 1996, that number jumped to 36 percent, and rose to 43 percent in 1997.
The continued growth in computer ownership has been fueled by a couple of factors -- the steadily declining price of new computers and the growing popularity of the Internet.
The growth of computers in education and work-at-home ventures added to the growth as well.
While most of computer purchasers last year were first-time PC owners, a growing number of households are adding a second PC, the study found.
For the past three years, analysts have predicted a drop in PC sales; this hasn't materialized, primarily because computer makers have continued to drop prices to keep sales up.
Is there a saturation point for PCs?
If so, it's still a few years down the road.
JUST SURF IT. John Knight's business is reinventing itself.
According to the Knight, the chairman of Nike, the company's new Web site is bringing his company back to its roots, back when Knight sold his shoes from the trunk of his 1964 Plymouth Valiant.
Of course, the site doesn't have a pushbutton automatic transmission like the Valiant, but it is well-designed and equipped..
The site features Nike's "Alpha Project" line of products for the first three months.
Retailers that carry Nike products have been concerned the company could cut them out by selling direct, but Nike has no such plans, according to a recent Reuters story.
Nike plans for the site to be an interactive experience, providing detail and information that no in-store clerk could match.
And for those folks seeking a real-world store to browse through, Nike has included a dealer locator feature in its new site.
For more details, visit Nike at www.nike.com.
Comments and questions about this column may be sent to email@example.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.
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