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Good-bye, IBM. Seriously.

Monday, December 13, 2004;

As the holiday shopping season grinds on, I'll be hosting a Web chat at 2 p.m. ET today. Come all ye frustrated consumers and ask me anything you like about computing, consumer electronics and telecom. And if you can't make it at 2, please submit a question or comment early.

The PC as Commodity?

Last week, IBM announced that it would sell its personal-computer operations to Chinese manufacturer Lenovo Group, Ld., and many computing veterans felt a grave disturbance in the Force.

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IBM! The company that, as the saying went, nobody ever got fired for buying from, was firing itself. Hard to believe, given its stature in the personal-computing business.

Just three years ago, IBM was celebrating the 20th anniversary of the PC's release. When it introduced its model 5150 in 1981, it was a sufficiently important development for Apple to buy full-page newspaper ads that read "Welcome, IBM. Seriously."

My own history with IBM hardware goes way back. The first computer we had at home when I was growing up was the IBM PCjr my dad bought sometime in 1984 or 1985. Notwithstanding its reputation as the Chevy Chevette of home computers, that desktop served us well for a few years, running Microsoft Word and Flight Simulator without much complaint.

Then there was the sleek black ThinkPad my roommate bought right out of college that made the rest of us nerds in that apartment insanely jealous, and the succession of generic IBM desktops I've used at work, up to the NetVista on my desk at the moment.

I am typing these words on yet another IBM, the ThinkPad X30 laptop The Post bought for me a couple of years ago, and which has accompanied me on multiple trips up and down and across the country since then.

I can't say I'll miss IBM's desktops, which were never that distinctive -- and when IBM shuttered its Aptiva division around 2001, ceased being remotely relevant to home customers. But I will miss its ThinkPad laptops. They always exhibited a dedication elegant design rarely seen in this business; one of the few highlights of a spectacularly dull trade show in New York was the chance to sit down with a couple of ThinkPad designers and talk about future design concepts, designs that may now never see the light of day.

Even the ThinkPad name was something special, a reference to IBM founder Thomas J. Watson's one-word slogan "Think."

Now IBM's desktops and laptops will constitute yet another exhibit in the instability of the computer business. The IBM name will continue to appear on Lenovo-built computers for the next five years. But really, whom does the company think it's kidding with that?


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