OPINION

Starting Over: What Obama’s Healthcare Team Could Learn From AMD’s ‘Vision’

You couldn’t help but feel for the U.S. president last week as he tried to sell an unpopular health plan. Sometimes you have to realize the foundation of something is just so bad that no amount of patching or selling will fix it, and while it looks like you are close to done, you’d actually get done more quickly if you started over properly.

The PC market is a mess like that with simply too much confusion. There are so many brands, product names, versions, speeds and component mixes that consumers have to know more about technology than they want to, just to make a good decision. Even those who do their homework are at high risk that the 14-year-old who lives across the street will wander in and point out, accurately, that their decision was stupid.

AMD just addressed this dilemma with “Vision,” and the Irony is that Intel’s ex-CMO Don MacDonald tried to do this but didn’t get the support he needed to get it done.

I’ll focus on AMD’s Vision and why it is important to start from scratch this week and close with my product of the week: a new HD webcam from Microsoft that addresses “vision” differently.

U.S. Healthcare and the Need to Start Over

When I was growing up, my grandmother told me one of those stories that tend to stick with you through life. It was of a woman who had mistakenly used salt instead of sugar in her tea and wanted to fix the problem. After asking everyone in town what to do and trying every suggestion — only to have her tea taste increasingly worse — she went to the smartest lady in town who told her to pour a new cup. That worked.

Following this simple advice could help a lot of situations in day-to-day life — from marriages that simply don’t work to projects in companies that, despite increasing resources, continue to get worse. The most visible of these types of efforts that I’ve seen in my own life is the attempt to pass healthcare reform in the U.S.

What happened is that after eight years of having one party run the country, largely in a partisan fashion, the other party took power and immediately made the same mistake. If surveys are to be believed, it will likely lose its dominance shortly, but it virtually doomed this massive healthcare effort from day one.

What happened is that the first draft of the effort was so incredibly biased that even the more moderate members of the ruling Democratic party couldn’t get behind it. U.S. citizens are running from it so fast that — were their feet doing what their hearts are — Mexico would be complaining about illegal U.S. immigrants this year.

While it may look different to those in the midst of this, just as it did to the woman in my initial story, the fastest way to fix healthcare would be to start over with a more moderate bipartisan proposal that might avoid the impassable barriers of the current one. This idea of starting over is what AMD demonstrated last week.

AMD’s Vision

The PC market is a mess. Consumers aren’t the only ones confused — I work with a lot of OEMs, and often they seem confused with regard to what to build and buy. For instance, when Windows 7 launches in a few weeks, you’ll see a lot of ugly lines. An ugly line is one where the move from one product to another isn’t clearly defined — particularly if the line contains entry, mid-range and premium products.

In way too many cases, you’ll see features like enhanced graphics in the entry portion of the line, mid-range products that lack these features but get higher-performing processors, and a mix of premium products with relatively inconsistent technology sets.

AMD effectively is trying to start over, breaking down the market and configurations into three primary areas (and one bonus we’ll get to later): Basic; Premium; and Ultimate.

Vision Basic is for day-to-day computing, likely targeting the majority of us who like a good experience on the Web and use things like Microsoft Office but really don’t push our machines that much, even though we increasingly want a good visual experience.

Vision Premium targets folks who like to create, as well as most gamers. Editing photos and videos, and wanting a realistic gaming experience are important in this class.

Vision Ultimate is for folks who need all the performance they can get — power gamers and folks who do heavy media creation and editing clearly are two groups that think performance is important.

Oh, and there is actually one more class: Vision Black is for folks who simply live on the bleeding edge and like it there. I figure 60 percent of us are Basic; 30 percent are Premium; 19 percent are Ultimate, and 1 percent (or less without rounding) are Vision Black. That’s reducing 200-plus confusing PC stickers to four.

The irony for Intel is that its ex-CMO Don MacDonald actually came up with this idea first and was well down the path to getting it done before being forced out of Intel. Sometimes a market turns on things as simple as this, and one thing you notice about Apple is it makes purchases simple. Last week, AMD took the biggest major step toward making non-Apple machines simpler. I expect the market will reward it for the effort.

Other Cool Stuff

AMD had us all on the USS Hornet aircraft carrier to showcase its new brand, but they also demonstrated a number of other things that will show up around the Windows 7 launch next week.

The first — and arguably the coolest — is Eyefinity, which allows users to link multiple monitors together and put a game or movie on all of them at once. Generally, particularly with games, you are limited to one monitor at a time, and bringing up more than four monitors is problematic.

AMD demonstrated a 24-monitor relatively unique system and a one-card six-monitor rig that was likely to be relatively common. I run twin 24-inch monitors myself and have a rig that would take up to six of them. I’m dying to try this out. Samsung is bringing out special thin-edge monitors just for this purpose.

Another demo highlighted the extremely fast built-in

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