Wait no longer for a Pentium MMX PC, go for the RAM now

Pentium MMX chips have taken a dip since I predicted a few months ago that Intel
Corp.'s new multimedia processors would make current Pentiums old-fashioned, if not
obsolete.


The first of the crop of new MMX PCs was supposed to have sprouted by now. Software
vendors may have readied their applications, but it looks as if the MMX chips won't arrive
till closer to spring.


I can think of three possible reasons for Intel's delay: Fabrication bugs, problems
with software spec, or a desire to wring as much as possible out of the current Pentium
boom.


I've been holding off buying a computer on the expectation of MMX's availability, and
you may have, too, but it looks like memory prices are about bottomed out now. I really
need 32M of RAM in my fastest test system, so I'm getting more concerned about RAM cost
than about the latest multimedia technology. Hard-drive prices should continue to fall
through the rest of 1996, though.


If it appears that the MMX delay might keep your office from being able to afford all
the RAM your users really need in new-generation PCs, perhaps you should re-evaluate and
make a near-term purchase now. In any case, MMX features will be implemented in software,
so we're only talking about a performance difference here.


Meanwhile, Phoenix Technologies Ltd., the maker of many PC BIOS chips, is working on
building sophisticated diagnostics right into your next PC.


Designed for Microsoft Windows and many popular applications, the new diagnostics
should locate and correct many configuration problems. This could be a breakthrough if
it's well-implemented. As you surely know if you support Windows, error messages are less
than forthcoming about how to fix most problems.


The main difficulty is that when Windows reports that a file missing, it fails to
indicate just where that file should be located, which makes repairs chancy at best.


I don't know whether the new Phoenix BIOS will address this sort of problem, but
somebody certainly should. I'm tired of scattering files across directories in an attempt
at a quick fix when a program acts up .


I recently lost Corel's Quattro Pro because I was missing a language driver, or at
least that's what the error message said. If I did a lot of digging and experimenting, I
might be able to determine just what went wrong and find an elegant way to fix it, but
probably it would be faster to reinstall the entire program.


Or I can just open an MS-DOS window and run an old copy of Lotus 1-2-3, build a simple
worksheet, input data and get the answer in even less time than reinstalling Quattro Pro.


Ten bonus points to anyone who can guess which I will do. Fifty bonus points to every
user who has held on to some of those old DOS applications that lack megabytes of fancy
features but still seem to work just fine, even if you run them from a floppy disk.


In a masterpiece of timing, just as I was running a spell check on this column after
complaining about Windows, my system crashed. Maybe Windows is smarter than I give it
credit for.


There'll be a renewed attempt by next summer to get us to compute with pens or
touchscreens. IBM Corp. and Apple Computer Inc., having failed to gain much of a toehold
with their OS/2 and Macintosh operating systems, are working on ways to make all OSes more
independent of the user interface.


The goal is to supplant an overall standard GUI (like Windows) with a different GUI for
different applications, creating, for instance, a working environment for computer-aided
design different from that for a spreadsheet.


This still is at the rumor stage, but it seems to me like a step backward at a time
when most vendors finally have their applications consistently using Windows.


I seem to recall that the many moves we've seen to make the pen mightier than the
keyboard have all failed for some very good reasons. Touchscreens also seemed like a good
idea until users tried holding their arms outstretched all day to enter commands.


Look for these and other exciting developments--but bear in mind that software changes
are driven more these days by the need to sell new bells and whistles than by some
blinding flash of inspiration that will make computing easier for all of us.


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. He welcomes mail from readers. Write to him care of
Government Computer News, 8601 Georgia Ave., Suite 300, Silver Spring, Md. 20910.



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