A few years ago, there were two kinds of people those who owned a computer and those who didn't.

Things have grown a little more sophisticated. Personal computers are now a bit like that old saying about pets and their owners -- they begin to look a little like each other after a while. Just as you can tell a lot about someone who keeps 12 cats or drives a Rolls Royce, there are certain generalizations you can make about people based on the kind of computer company they keep.

After a careful survey of who owns what, some guidelines naturally emerged that match personality type with PC. Think of the following sketches as a personality guide to help you avoid a social faux pas when the cocktail chitchat turns to PCs. The most important thing about personal computers to remember is that sociology is more important than technology. (Excuse the male pronoun, but the fact is that males own the overwhelming majority of PCs.)

If he owns:

* IBM PC, XT or AT -- Voted for Ronald Reagan. Eats steak and potatoes. Drives a big car that almost gets good mileage. Wears nice suits. Wears white shirts to work. Wears solid ties or ugly paisley ones. Drives at 55 mph if the kids are in the car. Has an umbrella at home, in the car and in the office. If a family man, owns a golden retriever or a collie; if not, owns a Doberman pinscher that's trained to kill on command. Only lets the children do homework on the PC. Slight overachiever but not particularly innovative. Likes John Wayne and Paul Newman movies. Always watches the network news. Favorite TV show is "Wall Street Week." Reads The Wall Street Journal religiously. Owns money market funds and stock in IBM. Never draws to an inside straight.

* IBM compatible -- Voted for Ronald Reagan but worries about the deficit. Eats chopped steak and baked potatos. Will draw to an inside straight if the pot is under $10. Drives a Japanese car that almost looks like a Ford. Buys name-brand suits at discount prices. Has immaculate taste in ties. Even at 70 mph, drives at the same speed as the other cars on the highway. Lets children play games on the computer. Wants to get ahead but not sure of the cost. Watches "Wall Street Week" but prefers "Dynasty." Owns tax-exempt bonds, plays the stock market a little and owns shares in IBM. Skims The Wall Street Journal but reads Forbes religiously. Buys disposable umbrellas.

* Apple Macintosh -- Voted for John Anderson. Jogs. Eats brie. Favorite movie is "The Big Chill." Thinks that winning at Trivial Pursuit is important. Frustrated artist. Gets wet when it rains. Wants to buy a Volvo but can't afford one because he purchased a Macintosh, so instead he owns a Toyota. Always drives faster than the posted speed limit. Subscribes to The New Yorker but only looks at the cartoons. Does read Inc. and Venture magazines. Hides copy of People magazine in the bathroom. Favorite TV show is "Hill Street Blues." Never watches the network news; prefers cable TV instead. Doesn't play poker unless the cards are wild.

* Apple IIe or IIc -- same as Macintosh but not as hip. Plays poker better, though.

* Commodore 64 -- Reads Consumer Reports religiously. Drives used car. Eats at McDonald's. Children wear hand-me-downs and are taught the importance of getting a good education. Plays penny-ante poker but stops when losses exceed $10. Clips coupons. Likes revival movie theaters. Reads People magazine but refuses to admit it.

* Coleco Adam -- devout family man. Adores Disney films. Likes computing with the children. Cringes whenever he hears the line "Never give a sucker an even break."

* Atari -- likes videogames. Likes color. Will only let kids play with the computer if he can beat them at the game that's running. Favorite TV show is "M*A*S*H." Likes Alan Alda but can't remember the last time he did a commercial for Atari.

* Kaypro -- drives a Volkswagen or car of that ilk. Very functional and pragmatic. Only a nodding acquaintance with aesthetics. Cheap. Has huge right or left bicep from carrying the darn thing around.

Is there a point to this litany of stereotypes?

Of course -- and a very serious one.

As the competition to sell personal computers intensifies still further, manufacturers are struggling for new ways to differentiate their products. Just as Detroit markets its automobiles to fit various lifestyles; just as the hotel chains appeal to different demographics; and the cola people hype the virtues of their fizzy drinks, personal computer companies are going to try so-called lifestyle marketing.

Don't forget that Apple Computer President John Sculley came from Pepsi, where he made his living figuring out how to target key demographics with lifestyle ads.

That doesn't mean that Apple will be advertising "The Apple Generation" or "Have an Apple and a smile."

Or that IBM will launch a campaign saying "IBM is it" (although it very well could).

The bottom line is that consumers can begin to expect more and more lifestyle-type ads touting the psychological -- as well as the technological -- virtues of their machines. Expect to see personal computer ads that tug at your heartstrings as well as your wallet. Expect to see ads that are aimed for different personality types that are likely to favor one computer over a competitor. There's a lot of truth to the observation that folks who own Apples aren't quite like the folks who own Commodores and IBMs.

What computer do I own?

An Osborne.

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