The term hardware most often refers to computer machinery and equipment one can see and touch, such as central processing units (CPUs), disk drives, modems, memory chips, monitors, speakers, and printers. Memory and disk devices send data and instructions to the CPU. The type of hardware housed inside a computer determines how quickly the CPU can process these instructions. The software applications that reside on a computer—such as Windows or Unix operating systems, word processors, spreadsheets, databases, e-mail programs, and World Wide Web browsers—make the hardware useful to computer users in the same way that television programming makes televisions and remote controls useful to viewers. Major hardware companies include Compaq Computer Corp., Intel Corp., and Dell Computer Corp. In the late 1990s, as prices for personal computers (PCs) began plummeting, many of these firms sought both diversification as a means of growing sales and consolidation as a means of cutting costs. For example, Compaq paid $3 billion for Tandem Computers Inc. in 1997. The deal, which marked the computer hardware industry’s largest transaction that year, doubled Compaq’s sales force and allowed the company to begin offering clients more fully integrated products. Roughly one year later, Compaq bought Digital Equipment Corp for $9 billion—the industry’s largest acquisition to date—to become the worldwide leader in multi-user storage systems. In the late 1990s, the growth of the Internet forced many hardware companies to move into networking technology and World Wide Web services. For example, although the popularity of the Web helped fuel Intel’s success when hordes of consumers bought PCs to gain access to the Internet from their homes, it also eventually sparked the development of hardware devices like cell phones and inexpensive Internet terminals that offered consumers alternative means of accessing the Internet. As a result, Intel began to restructure itself as a networking technology and Internet services provider. In 1998, the firm launched an $8.5 billion purchasing spree that included the acquisition of communications and networking firms and the development of Web hosting services. In 2000, it developed the e-Commerce Directory, which enhances the speed of online purchases, and Traffic Director, which helps to balance loads on ecommerce servers. In May of 2001, one of the largest players in the computer hardware industry, IBM Corp., launched Web Services, which allows the applications used by one online business to communicate with the applications used by other businesses to better facilitate electronic business-to-business transactions. FURTHER READING: Abreu, Elinor. ‘‘Big Blue Joins