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Employees Increasingly Being Offered
Free Home PCs

Associated Press
SAN JOSE, Calif. — "Where's my new PC?" could become the mantra of the millennium, with corporate America increasingly handing over free computers to employees in a tight labor market.

The computer chip maker Intel on Tuesday joined Ford Motor Co. and both Delta and American airlines in offering workers home PCs, printers and free or discounted hookups to the Internet.

Technology experts say it helps keep employees up-to-date on technology. Some consider it a ploy to get employees to take work home.

Martin Marshall, director of research at technology-watch firm Zona Research Inc., said companies have been struggling to find and keep skilled labor and are betting the Internet will be a key means of training and conducting paperless communication.

"One of the single-largest costs is employee training and retention, and this is a cost-effective way of addressing those issues," he said. "The good-karma image they may get as a result of the program is entirely a side benefit."

Companies for years have offered employees the option of buying castoff computers at a discount. Other perks such as free dry cleaning, massages, lunch discounts and gym club memberships have fallen in and out of fashion as ways to spread good feelings about the boss.

Free PC programs have been offered in Scandinavian countries for several years. Analyst Rob Enderle at research firm Giga Information Group said data from the those programs found employees are more likely to self-train themselves on PC applications at home, check e-mails and do other tasks they did not have time to do at work.

"There's literally no bad news here for the company; it creates a more productive employee and actually results in savings to the company's bottom line," Enderle said.

Intel, the world's leading computer chip maker, said that beginning in July its 70,000 full- and part-time employees will get an entire computer-Internet package for free, with regular technology upgrades.

The company will have to buy computers from the very manufacturers to whom it sold the chips that run these machines.

Marilyn Guldan, an administrative assistant who helps create Web pages for Intel's legal department, doesn't care if the company wants her to do more work at home.

"This is an opportunity. For me, I'm doing Web design, and there's a fine line between work and play. What it means for me is I get to play at home."

Ford became the first big U.S. company to extend the free PC offer early last month.

The automaker is offering its 360,000-strong work force a computer, color printer and Internet access for $5 a month. Delta Air Lines offered employees a similar package for $12 per month for 36 months and American Airlines last week said it would do the same.

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