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Will e-mail make phone numbers obsolete?

Question - Do you believe that telephone numbers will disappear and that, instead, we'll all have e-mail addresses? leQ (encounterfarpoint.org)

Answer - Yes, telephone numbers will disappear.

An evolution of today's e-mail names will be what you use to get in touch with somebody, whether you want to initiate a voice call, send a message or beep their beeper.

First you'll indicate whom you want to contact, selecting from a personal address book or from a large directory, and then you'll choose what kind of contact you want. Software will take care of the rest.

Of course, the person you're trying to reach - or that person's software - will control whether you succeed in making contact. Junk mail and telephone solicitations won't get through unless the intended recipient wants them.

Telephone numbers aren't a great way to identify people. They aren't descriptive, we keep running out of them and multiple people use the same number - at home, for example.

Today's e-mail names have shortcomings that need work, too. Names will have to be unique, to follow you from work to home and from job to job.

Right now, your e-mail domain name (such as the "microsoft.com" in "johndoe@microsoft.com") tends to be the place you work. If you change jobs, it means your e-mail name probably changes.

People can sign up for outside services that provide an e-mail name they can use indefinitely, but often these services have users with identical names. Directories containing information about people can help sort out which "John Smith" is which, but directories rich with information raise privacy concerns.

The shortcomings of e-mail names will be addressed and must be because telephone numbers are inadequate addresses in a world exploding with communication.

Question - Every six months it seems that the speed of PCs increases, but the price of a "fast" PC always seems to hover around $3,000. Do you think we'll see a day when the best PCs cost less than $1,000? Ed Band, Roselle, N.J. (edband worlnet.att.net)

Answer - The average price of the PC has gone down in recent months. Up until about a year ago, the average price of the PC hadn't dropped in a decade. All innovation went into making PCs more powerful, because power is what the market wanted the most.

That hasn't changed altogether, but some innovation is now channeled into making the PC less expensive. The bottom has dropped from $1,500 to $1,000, and incredibly competitive configurations are now less than $2,000 in the United States.

The reason that state-of-the-art PCs hovered around $3,000 for so long was that the price was low enough that a large volume of people were willing to pay it and yet high enough that hardware and software companies were attracted to invest heavily in it.

Question - With the current trend for most industries going forward toward client-server computing involving PCs, what will be in store for industries that retain minicomputer and mainframe architectures? Raymond Mong Lek Keong, Malaysia (LKMonghlgs.hongleong.com.my)

Answer - Industries will do fine, as long as they keep pace with changing technology.

Companies that haven't used mainframes and minicomputers in the past won't adopt them in the future. Even among companies that use "big iron" now, usage will decline over time.

The PC industry is doing a better job of integrating old legacy systems with the new systems. For example, a company can deliver information to the Internet even though it comes out of a mainframe database.

But anytime an enterprise wants to do something new, such as write a new application, they'll do it for PC architecture. Over time, the legacy systems will go away and the companies that once used them will be in sync with newer enterprises.

Question - What are the duties of a president or CEO of a large company? Tom Ferguson, Philadelphia (utfergus king.mcs.drexel.edu)

Answer - The CEO is responsible for the success of the organization.

If you're the CEO, you must understand the strengths of the company and how to build on them. You must have a sense of how the competitive environment is going to change. You must build a management team - in sales, marketing, technology, all the disciplines - that is suited to the company's strengths and future market.

Because the framework in which companies operate is changing rapidly nowadays, it's almost impossible for one person to manage a company anymore. Although the world often thinks about the one person who has the CEO title, a team approach is really the only one that works well for most companies now.

The person at the top, the leader of the team, has to articulate where the company's going, what the challenges are, what tradeoffs the company's making. Moreover, he or she must do it with both logic and excitement.

If you're a CEO, once you decide what must be done, who is going to do it and how the company will react to surprises, you have a lot of latitude about the particulars. There's no magic about it, as long as you choose people who get along well and form a strong team.