Soon we can move beyond the PC. Then again, 20 years ago people thought we’d be living on the moon by now.

“I don’t see PCs going anywhere any time soon,” said Tim Bajarin, president of the consulting group Creative Strategies. Bajarin was speaking at Comdex, as he mused on the components of the digital appliance revolution.

“The PC remains the most versatile digital creation and integration tool today,” Bajarin said. In his view, this isn’t exactly the post-PC era but rather the dawning of the PC-plus age.

More than 18 million Internet appliances, such as personal digital assistants and cell phones, will ship in the U.S. by 2001. That’s compared to only 15 million PCs, according to research by International Data Corp.

So, where will people turn to appliances instead of PCs for their ‘net fix? Anywhere that offers a low-cost alternative to connect to the information superhighway. Examples range from Internet PCs like the recently announced legacy-free Compaq iPaq to thin clients like the IBM Netstation. AMD’s EasyNow PC is making some waves as well, by offering three Universal Serial Bus ports and an Ethernet slot, but no serial or parallel ports, and a US$499 price tag.

Mostly, digital appliances are making themselves at home.

“In a perfect world, all devices would talk to each other wirelessly, but that won’t happen immediately,” Bajarin said.

Office by Subscription

Picture a home office of the near future. You’ve got your requisite PC, your laptop, and your Internet terminal such as the Netpliance flat panel screen, base and keyboard. They’re yours on a lease for the low, low price of US$199, plus a monthly fee of US$21.95. Next to your books and family photos lies your Web Companion.

The Windows CE-based Web Companion is Microsoft’s latest pride and joy. It supports the Internet Explorer browser that automatically dials the Microsoft Network portal, authenticates you, and transports you on-line.

“Essentially, Internet and Hotmail access is one click away,” said Jonathan Roberts, general manager of market development for Windows CE. And, as Roberts mentioned, James Bond uses a Windows CE device. Most of us, however, won’t have to depend on Windows to debug a nuclear bomb.

Maybe you want to opt for the Web Pad. It’s fully portable and you can walk around the house with it, according to Mike Polacek, vice-president of National Semiconductor’s information appliance division. It bears an uncanny resemblance to an Etch-a-Sketch, but appears more useful.

Let’s move into the living room, where the family is gathered around the Web TV and Junior plays with the Game Console. There’s also the digital VCR and the set-top box.

Speaking of entertainment appliances, move over, Rover. Sony’s got the dog of the future. It’s named AIBO, an it’s an autonomous robot that walks on four legs and responds to touch sensors. Its character traits are built into a memory stick, but it also relies on interaction from its owner. The AIBO runs on a lithium battery and comes with a charger. And it won’t make a mess on your new carpet.