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Sluggish PC sales pushing prices lower

April 6, 2003


If you're in the market for a new computer, a recent study suggests now may be the time to buy that second computer or upgrade to a new one.

The sales of desktop computers dropped by 9 percent in February, according to a recently released study by NPD Techworld. Slowing sales pushed the prices of new computers down to an average of $717.

Among desktop computers purchased, the number of low-end systems (those under $800 in price) grew by 17 percent during the same time frame. The main reason for this, analysts say, is that lower-priced systems are including features that were add-ons a year ago, including extra memory and a CD burner or combination CD/DVD drive. Among all the computers sold in February, nearly 73 percent were in the under-$800 range.

Analysts say that computer buyers may be putting more of their money into monitor upgrades. Flat-panel LCD and larger CRT monitors have come down in price in the past year, though flat-panel monitors are still more expensive than the traditional CRT-type.

The price for a new notebook computer has dropped some, but don't expect to find huge savings on them -- they're the one shining star in the computer sales reports. Notebook sales in February were up by 25 percent over a year ago, the study said.

Even if continued slow sales don't force prices lower, analysts at NPD say you can expect to see manufacturers move to add value to their products by including additional features or upgrades for the same price.

With a two-year-old system sitting on my desktop, I'm already wondering if a new, more affordable PC might be in my future.

RIAA ATTACKS. The music industry is making good on its promise to take legal action against individuals who illegally trade or enable the trade of copyrighted music.

The Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) filed lawsuits last week against four college students at three U.S. universities because they were involved what were described as "Napster-like" campus computer networks designed solely to distribute music files.

The RIAA filed lawsuits against Daniel Peng of Princeton; Joseph Nievelt of Michigan Technological University, and; Jesse Jordan and Aaron Sherman, both students at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. The RIAA is seeking damages of $150,000 per song traded on the networks.

The damages could be extensive as well as expensive for the defendants. In the lawsuit the RIAA alleged that the four used their university's computer networks for sharing a combined total of up to 2.5 million music files with thousands of fellow college students.

According to the Associated Press, some administrators at the universities named in the lawsuits were apparently a little miffed because the RIAA did not first alert the schools about the illegal file trading.

A Princeton University spokesman said the school can't monitor everything on its network, but it acts swiftly when alerted to copyright infringement. Michigan Technological University president Curtis Tompkins told the AP he wished the RIAA had first contacted the school about the matter as it had in the past.

The named universities all have policies in place prohibiting use of their networks for copyright infringement.

Clearly the RIAA wants to send a message to both college students and the universities that the industry group is actively seeking to take gross copyright violators to court -- and make them pay the price. The RIAA issued a warning in January to college administrators that it would target copyright violators who used campus computer networks.

The RIAA has asserted that the popularity of sites like Napster and Kazaa are to blame for the current slump in the sale of music CDs. RIAA critics say the industry has failed to capitalize on the Internet as an avenue for distributing music, and that the current method of selling CDs forces music buyers to buy a CD full of music when they only want two or three songs by a given artist.

The RIAA investigators discovered the file-swapping campus networks by reading college newspapers.

WINDOW PAIN. Microsoft has agreed to modify its Windows XP operating system after complaints to the U.S. Department of Justice in relation to the software maker's antitrust settlement with the federal government.

The Justice Department found that Microsoft unfairly used its operating system to promote its own Web browser, requiring manufacturers to use only Internet Explorer on new computers running a Windows operating system. As part of the settlement in that case, Microsoft had agreed to give consumers a way to remove the Internet Explorer Web browser.

Microsoft complied with the agreement, part of which said that the company had to give Windows users an easy way to remove the Internet Explorer if they chose to do so. However the location of the "Remove Internet Explorer" button wasn't easy to find, prompting complaints from those watching the case.

Microsoft will relocate the button to a more prominent area in the Windows XP "Start" menu.

It is unknown exactly how many Windows XP users have removed Internet Explorer, and even some Microsoft critics say a "Remove Internet Explorer" button is meaningless.

Mike Pettit, a spokesman for Procomp, an anti-Microsoft trade group, told Reuters recently that the remove button change was "a complete waste of time and effort and has nothing to do with restoring competition."

As part of its antitrust settlement, Microsoft is prohibited from requiring manufacturers use certain Microsoft software as a condition of using the Windows operating system in new computers. The settlement was designed to give computer makers the freedom to offer rival software products and give other software companies a chance to compete with Microsoft.

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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