'Tis the season when hyped product claims get wrap they deserve

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all in favor of holidays that give you a day off and
gifts, too. But I seem to remember that our jolly, white-bearded Santa in the
Coca-Cola-red suit was originally an advertising gimmick for the soft drink giant.


The same sort of pesky memory kicked into gear when I read about the new wonder
products announced at the Comdex show last month in Las Vegas. Whenever a vendor promotes
a product as the best thing since sliced bread, you can bet it will cut off
somebody’s fingers.


The thing I didn’t like about the first Apple Macintosh was that it was a closed
box with a tiny monitor and not much way to upgrade. As for the iMac, it’s cute in a
vintage Star Trek way, but why no floppy drive for backup or file exchange? Why no SCSI or
PCI expansion ports? It can only compete with network computers.


And speaking of NCs, did any of you spring for them? I suspect few feds cared to pay
the same price for crippled PCs as for real ones.


Microsoft Corp.’s TerraServer Web site at http://www.terraserver.com
is supposed to show how easily Microsoft could scale up its technology to serve the
Internet’s largest database. Only problem is, it’s very, very slow.


In contrast, Linux started small but is scaling up nicely. User worries about Microsoft
dominating the software world, augmented by a burning desire for a stable operating
system, prompted this freeware Unix clone and launched it into the forefront of many
information management strategies.


Now, Xi Graphics Inc. of Denver, at http://www.xig.com, has introduced the MaXimum
cde/OS version of Linux. Even at a pricey $215, it might be a good buy, as training will
be minimal for current users of SunSoft Solaris or Hewlett-Packard HP-UX. MaXimum Linux
has the same interface.


Microsoft Windows NT? Call me after Windows 2000 5.1 is shipping.


Now for some good news about next year. PCs will keep getting cheaper and faster.


Year 2000 problems won’t affect most users in a serious way just yet. But if your
office’s PCs are more than a year old, check to see which ones need a BIOS upgrade.


Next year will continue a short-lived sweet spot in application size vs. storage media.
No mainstream office programs are swelling enough to require multiple digital video disks
for distribution, so, at the cost of swapping two or three CD-ROMs in and out, you can
still install a basic spreadsheet and word processor without having to upgrade to DVD. The
same goes for Doom or Tomb Raider. Flight Simulator is different; I expect it to require
DVD soon.


Contrary to many predictions, the Internet didn’t crash this year under the
pressure of people downloading stock charts and the Starr Report. It probably won’t
crash next year, either, even if users do follow my advice and try Web browser cache
programs to speed up access.


Notebook computers will have even larger screens and more speed, but unfortunately not
much longer battery life. Processor speed doesn’t matter that much to most users. Why
do manufacturers concentrate on it to the exclusion of just getting their notebooks to run
a couple of hours longer?


My office wasn’t hurt by any computer virus this year. The chances are that yours
wasn’t, either, and that next year will continue in that vein. I didn’t lose a
single important file this year and, with good planning, I won’t next year, either.


Contrary to my curmudgeonly reputation, I’m a very positive individual.


I like computers. I like fast computers even better, and best of all I like ones that
don’t crash.


I remember the days when I had to drive 30 miles to a university library to look up
something, so when it takes one minute to do the same research on the Internet, I
don’t get too upset about slow download speeds.


My reputation for grumpiness probably came from insisting that software should be
small, cheap and not prone to crashes every few minutes. Progress, in my book, is making
things easier, not just different. Even though I may draw a few more vile epithets via
e-mail, I plan to continue being skeptical of exaggerated product claims.


To round off the year with a gift, here are a few no-cost tips:


John McCormick, a free-lance writer and computer consultant, has been working with
computers since the early 1960s. E-mail him at powerusr@penn.com.

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