Letter: Cost of computers

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The Independent Online
IT SHOULD be understandable that the costs of the millennium bug will be carried by the public rather than the manufacturers (letter, 1 April), for it was the combination of public liability and private profit which created the industry in the first place.

In the US in the Fifties, when computers were too clumsy and unreliable to be sold on the open market, some 85 per cent of the cost of research and development was carried by government funding, mostly via the Pentagon. The public share of these costs declined gradually as machines became marketable, but the ensuing fortunes in profits remained in the private sector. The Internet, of course, was the result of massive US Defense Department subsidies long before it held any commercial potential or interest, although any derivative right for the public to have a say in its future development is ignored.

This subsidy, more than anything, accounts for US domination in such markets. It is a convenient myth within the computer industry that these fortunes were based on entrepreneurial geeks tinkering in their garages.

MARK WALMSLEY

Stoke on Trent, Staffordshire

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