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Price of computer hardware continues its downward spiral


Computer ownership in the U.S. is estimated to be at or slightly above the 50 percent range.

That's pretty impressive when you consider the high hardware prices that early buyers confronted when shelling out bucks for their new computers just a few short years ago.

But unlike gasoline, new computer hardware has been getting less expensive as it gets faster and more powerful.

How cheap can computers become?

If you are willing to make a long-term commitment to an Internet provider, you can get one free.

That's the latest sales pitch that America Online, Microsoft and Prodigy have adopted in new campaigns aimed at signing up new Internet subscribers to their service.

Following the model set by the cellular telephone industry, if you sign up for the service, the computer is free.

AOL is set to offer a $400 rebate on selected computer made by eMachines to anyone who subscribes to their $21.95-a-month CompuServe Internet access for three years.

The computer -- by price maverick eMachines, Inc. -- retails for $399, so the rebate would make the computer "free." The only expense would be the purchase of a monitor.

Is it a bargain?

Critics say that a three-year commitment is an extremely long time, considering the rapidly changing Internet access business. Some areas already can access the Web via high-speed cable modem. A 56k modem Internet account wouldn't be such a great deal if faster access was available in a couple of years.

In dollars and cents, the cost of three years of CompuServe is approximately $790.

But the economically priced eMachines computers are nicely equipped, featuring Cyrix processors (up to 400 MHz), a minimum of 32 MB of RAM, 3D video card, 3D sound card, 24x CD-ROM, 56k V.90 modem and 2.1GB hard drive.

The AOL/CompuServe rebate is expected to apply at other computers bought at Circuit City retail outlets.

Prodigy's three-year deal is coupled with a rebate for any brand computer purchased at Best Buy. It's Internet access is priced at $19.95 per month.

Microsoft Corp.'s offer of a $400 rebate ended recently, but reports are that the company may extend the offer. Their program offered a rebate to purchasers of computers from Staples office supply stores.

Look for more free computers to be coupled with Internet access from other computer manufacturers in the near future.

MAC ATTACK. Apple Computer's iMac -- the funny shaped all-in-one consumer Macintosh that's available in a variety of fruity translucent colors -- has been the surprise hit of the computer industry since its introduction last year.

And while imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, lawyers from Apple Computers are crying foul over a company's plans to make their own PC-based iMac knock-offs.

When Future Power unveiled a prototype of its new E-Power computer at a recent computer show, the similarities were more than coincidence by the company's own admission.

The E-Power PC will come in a variety of colors, similar to the iMac. The company doesn't deny it was inspired by Apple's hot-selling iMac, but Future Power made a few changes.

The E-Power PC includes a floppy disk drive (the iMac does not). The E-Power PC runs Windows 98 (the iMac runs Mac OS). And the E-Power PC is less expensive than the iMac.

But like the iMac, the E-Power computer includes a 56k modem, USB ports and Ethernet networking capability built-in to the unit.

Plans to ship the E-Power to dealers by September may be delayed after the lawsuit Apple filed Thursday claiming product design trademark infringement.

The company seeks an injunction to prevent the company from distributing the E-Power computers. It is also seeking actual and punitive damages.

Is Future Power infringing on the unique look of Apple's iMac? Visit the Future Power Web site at www.futurepowerusa.com and see for yourself.

YOU'LL KNOW JUNO. If you haven't heard of Juno, chances are you will soon.

The free e-mail/discount Internet access provider is ramping up for a big marketing campaign to attract new users and keep the ones they have.

Juno began in 1996 offering free e-mail to anyone who signed up. The company still offers the free e-mail service, but has added premium e-mail services and low-cost Internet access to its growing list of services.

Juno has more than 1,900 access points to their service now online, which includes numbers for local access in Elizabethtown, Bowling Green, and Louisville in the 502 area code, and London, Lexington, Ashland, Mount Vernon, Manchester, Barbourville and Science Hill in the 606 area code.

Juno 3.0, the company's newest software, is being released later this week as part of its new push for new subscribers.

The company hopes to become an alternative to America Online, and has planned an AOL-like blitz of its software CDs, of which 1.5 million will be going on by mail and direct mail for free.

More than 6.8 million people have subscribed to Juno's service since 1996.

For more information, visit Juno's Web site at www.juno.com.

YOU'VE GOT PANIC. The power of e-mail as a communication tool was recently illustrated when Colombian police arrested a man for creating a financial panic.

Using a Hotmail account, police say the 24-year-old man sent e-mail messages to a bank's employees and account holders, advising them to withdraw their funds before a pending intervention by the Colombian government occurred.

The man's e-mail was forwarded and quoted by second- and third-hand e-mails, spreading additional misinformation about the bank.

The result was a run - customers lined up to withdraw $11.4 million from the bank in a single day -- forcing the government to step in, in this case, with some a loan of additional cash.

The man's actions -- inciting economic panic -- are punishable by up to eight years in jail under Colombian law.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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