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Gateway Adds Training to Menu of Products

Education: Many don't use all of PC's capabilities, company says. Ad campaign and new in-store clinics are planned.


Gateway is admitting publicly what most computer makers generally try to sweep under the rug: using a computer can be pretty darned complicated.

Today, it will launch an advertising campaign to drive home that point. And it has begun offering free clinics for PC users.

Chief Executive Jeff Weitzen says San Diego-based Gateway aims to be the biggest nonvocational computer trainer in the country by year's end.

"Technology is moving so quickly that a lot of the technology companies, really the industry as a whole, [have] forgotten a little about the user," Weitzen said. "It's just become a dizzying and confusing maze of technology, and because of that, people just aren't trying it."

One Gateway TV spot features a living room with family members going about their daily lives while a PC sits dark and idle.

Weitzen says he wants to help people take advantage of all the capabilities of computers--and if PC sales get a boost, he won't complain.

"We have so many 'unidimensional users' out there, who are only using [the computer] for e-mail, only using it for the Internet, and would like to be able to use it for other things," he said.

Gateway is in a unique position among the major computer manufacturers because it has its own network of 290 stores. Originally just showrooms where customers could order computers, Gateway started using them for training, then added classrooms.

Starting this month, Gateway's own stores and its kiosks in OfficeMax stores began providing free clinics on PC and Internet basics as well as more advanced topics such as digital photography and music.

The company also has 5,000 classroom seats in its stores for more thorough classes on those subjects, as well as software applications like Microsoft Office. The classes cost between $49 and $175.

PC industry analyst Tim Bajarin said other computer manufacturers, notably Compaq Computer and IBM, have tried to educate consumers as well but were hobbled by having to cooperate with retailers.

"When you have a dedicated store that's all Gateway, that makes it easier," Bajarin said.

The country's largest computer retailer, CompUSA, sells classes and provides free computer tutorials on its Web site, but these tend to be specific to software applications.

Weitzen said Gateway wants to focus on what consumers want to do, like digital photography, and teach them how to tie together the components they need, like cameras and printers.

Gateway also is sending out "technology ambassadors" to make contact with groups like fraternal orders and bird-watching clubs.

Bajarin said the Gateway initiative looked like a "very attractive proposition for newbies," but doesn't solve the underlying problems of the information revolution.

"The better way would be to make PCs easier to use," he said. "But in view of the fact that the PC industry has been very slow to respond to that issue--at least from a marketing standpoint and a practical standpoint, this is a very good idea."

Gateway's own consumer survey found that only 15% of PC owners believe that computers and technology products deliver on everything they promise.

Jolted by the success of Apple Computer's all-in-one iMac computer in 1998, a number of companies have realized that customers want simpler computers. The result has been computers that simplify by leaving out some hardware features that not all users need, like an old kind of printer port.

The next step is computers that are stripped down further, to the point where they are good for Internet access and not much else.

Compaq launched one such Internet appliance this month, and Gateway is working on one with America Online. It is expected to go on sale later this year.

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