PC-Sick Page 2

Electronics July 2001
By Tim Clark

Part 2: A PC at the Helm
 More of this Feature
• Part 1: PC-Sick
• Part 2: PC-Sick
• Part 3: PC-Sick

 Related Resources
• Electronics Column Index
• Electronics Feature Index

 Elsewhere on the Web
• Argonaut Computer
• Autonav
• OceanPC
• Nauticomp
• Raymarine
• Xplore Technologies

What's the point, that is, until you get a boat. "We get a lot of customers who have never had a computer in their home and have never used one at their office," says Jeff Mobley, director of sales and marketing at OceanPC, one of the first companies to market marinized computers. "These are people who pay other people good money to run their computers for them. But their views change when they get in the wheelhouse." After they see the advantages of having a PC at the helm, says Mobley, they finally give in and get literate. George Kioutis, CEO of Argonaut Computer, which supplies "ruggedized" computer products to both commercial and recreational mariners, concurs. "Once you start using this kind of equipment, you'll never go back," he says. But he admits that for many boaters the attitude is "If it's a computer, I don't want to know about it."

To appreciate the irony in this, just step to the helm on almost any powerboat larger than 40 feet LOA. The odds are that two or three computers will be staring you right in the face, only they go by other names: chartplotter, echosounder, radar. A chartplotter, for instance, includes an operating system, silicon chips, circuit board, memory, and monitor, just like a PC. But because its appearance is hardly reminiscent of that box and keyboard at the office (with its legacy of unreliability and frustration, its odor of pierced-tongued hackers invading the Pentagon, and its clickety-clackety connotations of lines at airport ticket counters), boaters aren't put off by them. Skippers who would sooner jump from a window than learn Windows 2000 master the intricacies of their dedicated navigational electronics with glee.

This is what Autonav, Argonaut, Nauticomp, and other manufacturers of marinized PCs are up against. "We've custom-tailored our marketing strategy for that boat owner who is a first-time computer buyer," says OceanPC's Mobley. "If our customers call for support, they don't have to know whether the problem is with the hardware, the software, the GPS, or what have you. We'll work it out." To allay boaters' fears that PCs are undependable, Mobley stresses that current operating systems are more stable than versions available just a few years ago and that today's hard drives are "marvels of micro-technology that are more durable than ever." In case a hard drive should crash--because of improperly loaded or faulty software or mechanical failure--OceanPC can supply a backup drive to keep onboard, pre-loaded with navigational software, that is reportedly as easy to install as a flashlight battery.

Next page > PC-Sick, Part 3 > Page 1, 2, 3

This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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