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Why Can’t You Buy a Microsoft Branded PC?

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The thought occurred to me the other day when I once again had to try and give tech support down the phone to my parents. For a while now, I’ve been trying to persuade them to buy an iMac, if only to give myself the occasional respite from having to deal the constant niggly issues on their aging Windows XP laptop. As everybody knows, Mac don’t tend to have this anti-virus problem, or produce that bizarre error message, they just work. If they got one, I’d be free, free, free! The iMac would be the perfect computer for my parents but unfortunately it costs about a grand, and this has proved a stumbling block in persuading them to deliver me from tech support hell.

PCs are always cheaper though, so why, I thought, can’t you buy a Microsoft branded PC?

The reason that Macs tend to work so well is that there’s very tight integration between the hardware and the software. You get the feeling that at every stage they were designed with each other in mind. It’s a very integrated experience, a tight ship

Of course, there’s a fundamental difference between Macs and PCs in that many companies can make a PC, while only Apple can sell Macs. In fact, the success of the PC is down to the fact that is that it was a platform that could be cloned. The fact that Compaq began to produce IBM PC Compatible clones in the mid-eighties it made the platform a success, and when Compaq got there first to use the 386 Intel processor, the clones over took the original blueprint.

So with so many other manufacturers able build PCs what would be the benefit of one that was Microsoft branded? Well, you can buy very tailored machines from the likes of HP but would it not be fascinating to see what Microsoft could put together to make the very best use of its OS. Would it not give the user confidence that it would all work together seamlessly, without problems.

It’s not as if Microsoft hasn’t any experience producing hardware. It’s mice and keyboards are among the best on the market. Take this Microsoft Media Center keyboard or this forthcoming collaboration with Razor. And there are some very exciting designs to come, such as this amazing looking wireless backlit keyboard.

So why can’t it extend this expertise to a whole PC? Researching this topic revealed that there was indeed a Microsoft PC unveiled at the annual WinHEC show back in 2003 under the code name ‘Athens’. This was a Windows reference design that was actually co-developed by HP. Designed with an emphasis on real time communications it features a webcam on one side of the widescreen display and a phone on the other.

Microsoft stated that the goal of the "Athens" PC, “was to offer a vision of what can be accomplished through the synergy of software and hardware”. Hmm, sounds a bit.. hmm… Mac like to me.

In fact the Athens PC was designed as a business focussed reference machine and was never really intended to come to market. It has served as an inspiration to manufacturers though. In 2003 a 23in widescreen display was still something of a novelty, and only since Skype added video is using a webcam becoming mainstream. It’s ‘Instant on’ feature is still not here for most desktop PCs but it is a major feature of Intel’s Viiv platform, even if it is no more than a glorified standby mode. The Athens PC continues to exist and the latest iteration sports Windows Vista.

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