Year in review
GCN surveys trace the pace of advances
By Richard W. Walker
What was tops in '99?
Network PC Cards
Palm Computing Inc.'s Palm III
|April 5||Network operating systems||Novell NetWare 5|
|April 26||Antivirus software||Symantec Corp.|
|May 10||Firewalls||Check Point Software|
Technologies Inc.'s FireWall-1
|June 28||PCs||Dell Computer Corp.|
|July 12||Large monitors||Dell Computer Corp.|
|Aug. 2||Ink-jet printers||Hewlett-Packard Co.|
|Aug. 23||Laser printers||Hewlett-Packard Co.|
|Sept. 27||Word processing software||Corel WordPerfect 8 and|
Microsoft Word 97 (tie)
|Oct. 11||Spreadsheet software||Microsoft Excel 2000|
|Nov. 8||Presentation software||Microsoft PowerPoint 2000|
The coming of the year 2000 provides a logical'and nearly irresistible'vantage point from which to look back, as well as forward.
Consider the view from GCN's product surveys. The surveys do more than gauge what's hot and what's not in the federal information technology market. Over time, they also provide a measure of how that technology has advanced.
Take PCs. It's hard to believe that 10 years ago, 16-MHz 386 PCs were the big deal. In a 1990 GCN survey, IBM's PS/2 Model 80-041/071 topped the charts, followed closely by Dell's System 316, the Everex Step 386/16 from Everex Systems Inc. of Fremont, Calif., and Compaq's Deskpro 386.
Users at the time were dazzled. 'We got it for the speed and crunching,' an Interior Department computer technician said of a newly acquired Deskpro.
OK, that was 10 years ago.
But nowadays, with chip speeds approaching 1 GHz, even the recent past can look like the technological dark ages.For years to come
Three years ago, in a survey on Pentium PC brands, a National Park Service geologist rhapsodized about his Gateway P-60, which came with 16M of RAM and a 683M hard drive'specs that seem lilliputian now.
'It's going to suit my needs well into the future,' the user predicted.
More than half the users surveyed in 1996 had 90-, 100- or 120-MHz boxes. PCs from Gateway Inc., then called Gateway 2000 Inc., received the highest marks in that survey, with Dell Computer Corp. and Micron Electronics Inc. of Nampa, Idaho, coming in second and third.
In this year's survey on PC brands, 92 percent of feds had PCs with processors running at a minimum of 233 MHz. About 10 percent had machines running at 433 MHz or faster.
A federal courts user in Washington complained that her 166-MHz Pentium PC from Dell was much too slow to handle all the programs on her 2.2G hard drive.'An upgrade to at least 400 MHz was the only way to go, she said.
Dell captured the top spot in this year's survey of PC brands, trailed by Gateway, Compaq Computer Corp. and Micron.
This year, GCN surveyed some new areas and revisited others. New hardware categories included network PC Cards and handheld computers.
Government users of spreadsheet software rated Micro-soft Excel 2000 highest in all preference categories.
Reliability, ease of use and speed were the most desirable attributes among feds who used PC Cards. The highest marks went to PC Cards from 3Com Corp. of Santa Clara, Calif., which held 57 percent of the market.
Although the installed base of handheld computers in the government is still small, handhelds are steadily making incursions into the federal market, the survey found.
A Geological Survey systems administrator in Anchorage, Alaska, was typical of the new breed of handheld enthusiasts, describing his Palm III from Palm Computing Inc., a subsidiary of 3Com Corp., as his alternate brain. He said he downloads e-mail from his office PC, reads it on the way home and drafts short responses using the Graffiti handwriting recognition software of the Palm, which was the top-rated handheld in the survey. Back in the office, he synchronizes the new data with that in his desktop PC.
Elsewhere on the hardware front, this year's survey on printers yielded few surprises. Hewlett-Packard Co. ruled federal offices in both the laser and ink-jet categories. Feds said they wanted reliability, durability and high image quality from printers. And that's what they generally got from HP machines, the survey showed.
'The HPs run like an HP: exceptionally well,' said a federal courts computer specialist in Washington.
For users of monitors 15 inches and larger, only one thing matters: image quality. Feds surveyed this year weren't particularly worried about brand names or features such as easy-to-operate controls. Crisp images and accurate colors were more important.
Dell's large monitors edged those from Gateway, Compaq, NEC Technologies Inc. of Itasca, Ill., and Sony Corp. of America of Park Ridge, N.J.
CRT monitors aren't likely to be supplanted by flat panel monitors anytime soon, according to a survey this year on flat panels. Nonetheless, use of flat panels is on the rise.
PCs from Dell Computer topped GCN's survey of desktop PCs in 1999.
Only 5.5 percent of feds polled had flat-panel monitors, but 11.7 percent of those who did not planned to buy one in the next 12 months. On the plus side, many feds liked the small footprint, wide screen and reduced heat of flat panels, but they said high prices were a big turnoff. Others complained about image quality and off-center viewing.
Another product use survey this year found that notebook PCs are the machines of choice.''It's my desktop and my notebook,'' said a Federal Aviation Administration project manager who travels a lot and didn't want to keep two sets of files.
The poll revealed that feds expect over the next few years to increase their time using notebooks to 27 percent of the workweek from 20 percent and to decrease their use of desktop PCs.
Users had fa-miliar gripes about notebooks'they're too heavy and bulky, battery life is short, keyboards are too cramped and pointing devices are problematic'but overall, they said, the pluses outweighed the minuses.
In surveys on software, Novell NetWare 5 was the top-rated network operating system this year, despite the dominance of Microsoft Windows NT Server, which held 52 percent of the market surveyed.
Among desktop PC applications, however, Microsoft Corp. was king of the hill in this year's surveys.'Feds rated PowerPoint 2000 No. 1 among presentation programs and Excel 2000 peerless in the spreadsheet category. Microsoft Word 97 and Corel WordPerfect 8 tied for first place in word processing software.
Playing it safe
Laser printers from Hewlett-Packard hold 82 percent of the federal market, a GCN survey found.
This year GCN conducted its first surveys on security. FireWall-1 from Check Point Software Technologies Inc. of Redwood City, Calif., garnered the top spot in the firewall rankings, and Symantec Corp. of Cupertino, Calif., had the highest-rated antivirus software.
In a survey on security trends, 70 percent of feds canvassed said that users represented the biggest stumbling block to implementing network security policies.
For 22 percent, software was the biggest problem. Viruses were the primary threat to e-mail security, 52 percent of the feds polled said.
What's up for 2000 in GCN surveys?
A lot, starting with a change in the name of the feature'from Product Preference Survey to GCN Reader Survey'that reflects a shift in the format. Look for in-depth surveys about topics and trends in networks, procurement, mobile computing, security and more, as well as reader polls of product preferences.