Originally created 07/20/02

Computers number 1 billion, and counting



Last April, a worker somewhere took part in a historic event - and then probably went home and had dinner.

The event, according to Gartner Dataquest statistics, was the shipping of the billionth personal computer. As in computer No. 1,000,000,000.

Which means roughly one for every six souls on the planet. And climbing. The same firm estimates that PC No. Two Billion will ship sometime in 2007.

You didn't miss the celebrations - there weren't any. No politicians windbagged the airwaves or plodded in parades, which underscores how much PCs have changed lives. Those old enough will remember when McDonald's kept count of its hamburgers on signs outside of outlets. Eventually, the numbers became so large that it was no longer worth counting.

That's what has happened to PCs. They're ubiquitous. Gartner estimates that of the billion shipped, about half are installed, and most are connected to the Internet.

Shipped where? According to the group, 63.4 percent wound up in the United States and Western Europe. Only 4.1 percent made it into Latin America, which makes that continent one of the targets for growth. Surprising is the note that Japan accounted for just 9 percent of the shipments, which Gartner says could be because of recent economic problems.

The other targets for growth are eastern Europe and China.

As for the epic changes the PC has fostered, they have become so everyday we don't think about them. Word processing and spreadsheets have changed the way business is conducted in profound ways, and the ability to use a computer has become an assumed office skill - like using a telephone. E-mail has become the written communication method of choice. Although readers contact me on a daily basis, sometimes by the dozens, if there are four hand-generated, ink-on-paper letters a year, it's a lot.

Graphics and illustrations that were once the domain of expensive artists are now available everywhere and for next to nothing.