Compaq's introduction of an optical scanner within a keyboard for PCs in its Presario range was not only an innovation that the industry required but an innovation that PC buyers would expect of Compaq. The Compaq Scanner Keyboard is available as an extra add-on for any other industry-standard PCs. The phrase 'industry-standard' is used here because Compaq was loath to use the words 'IBM-compatible' in its product literature for two reasons. The first is that IBM is a bitter rival and Compaq would prefer to have everybody say 'Compaq-compatible'. The second is that even though IBM invented the PC and all the clones and copycats, including Compaq, jumped on the bandwagon to follow this platform, being compatible with IBM does not really mean that much nowadays. Big Blue after all helped design the PowerPC chip that powers the Macintosh computer and operating system from Apple and uses the PowerPC in some of its own Risc (reduced instruction set computing) systems designed to run operating systems such as Windows NT or different flavours of UNIX. IBM is perhaps unsure what it is compatible with, although IBM chief executive Lou Gerstner will no doubt use the phrase 'network-centric computing' if there is any doubt about IBM's direction - as he did at Comdex in Las Vegas last year. I didn't hear his speech because I took the wrong bus, but I have heard it and read transcripts of it more than once since. He has repeated slightly different versions of it all over the place, even in an IBM newsletter I received in March when it was dressed up to look like November was just yesterday. Meanwhile, back to the Compaq scanner. It is essentially a space-saving device for SOHO (small office home office) operators and comes with OCR (optical character recognition) software, which enables documents to be read by the scanner and formatted into computer text. It is also the first in a series of peripheral products from the world's No 1 ranking microcomputer maker. The scanner and the software is automatically activated whenever you push some A4 paper into the slot. It is based on Visioneer's software and hardware technology and according to Compaq, about six seconds will see it through the rollers, for an average A4 page. There is no need to take your PC apart if you want to attach the new keyboard. It does not require any ISA or PCI expansion cards. Just plug it straight into the serial port if you are running Windows 95. The keyboard is available for HK$3,500. Hewlett-Packard has a similar device within its Pavilion or 'muscle' range of consumer PCs that will hit the Asia-Pacific region later this year but they are currently only on offer in the US and some other markets. The Pavilion's minitower casing is designed to look as though it is bulging with features, hence the 'muscle' reference. HP, which makes scanners and printers, will no doubt cut a swathe through the home market sales rankings when these machines finally arrive in Hong Kong because of its powerful brand recognition and its ability to bundle printers and scanners with machines. However, HP could hardly refuse an offer by the largest department stores in North America to take all the PCs HP could churn out in the Pavilion line and sell them to US consumers first. It wasn't a case of, 'yes, I'll take two thanks'. It was a case of, 'we'll take two million if you can do it'. While many US computer companies are criticised for their inability to provide global product rollouts so that us poor users in Asia-Pacific can latch on to one before the particular model is phased out or sent to that big computer desktop in the sky, HP could only look at the good business sense it made to have money upfront from the big chain stores. Watch out for the Pavilion when it finally arrives. Digital's Starion, which was a top little system from one of the industry's most reliable bands, was killed because Digital couldn't hack the pressure in the home market. This makes it easier for Hewlett-Packard to justify bringing the Pavilion out here. We hope.