2000 will go down as a very good year for computer products

John McCormick

This has been a good year for computer products.

Microsoft Windows 2000 turned out to be almost as good as its prerelease hype'stable and relatively bug-free even in the first release.

There are things I don't like, such as the strange implementation of Kerberos security that was apparently designed for incompatibility with other versions of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology-developed standard. That makes life hard for system managers who don't have pure Microsoft environments.

Some hidden bugs and security problems will probably show up eventually, but overall Win 2000 is solid.

Another good thing that arrived this year is the Handspring Visor personal digital assistant from Handspring Inc. of Mountain View, Calif. Except for a lower price, it doesn't offer much that's different from a Palm device from Palm Inc. of Santa Clara, Calif. But it has one outstanding accessory.

I really like the EyeModule camera that fits into the Visor's expansion slot. It captures grayscale or color images as .jpg files at resolutions up to 320 by 240 pixels. The $150 module adds zero weight and projects only a bit past the end of the Visor. And it makes surprisingly good images. Visit www.handspring.com for details.

Maps on Visor
Another Visor goodie comes from DeLorme Publishing
Co. Inc. of Yarmouth, Maine, at www.delorme.com. The $40 Solus 2.0 utility lets you move road maps or DeLorme's topological maps from a PC to the Visor.

As the emergency management coordinator in my area, I make daily use of this utility in naming back roads for a new 911 emergency response system. I've been trying to get a Global Positioning System unit for the Visor for three months without luck.

I can synchronize PC files with the Visor or use the folding Stowaway keyboard from Think Outside LLC of Solana Beach, Calif., to enter data directly. Sometimes I must take notes on the Visor and have trouble with the Graffiti software. The pop-up QWERTY keyboard isn't much good for entering more than a few characters.

Anyone who has tried to enter a Web address with one hand while holding a cup of coffee in the other knows that the standard QWERTY layout works well only for two-handed typing.

The best modification for this I have found for PDAs is FitalyStamp from Textware Solutions of Burlington, Mass. It's a stick-on overlay that doubles as a screen protector and a touch keyboard. The FitalyStamp arranges the most-used characters near the center and makes them larger. The overlay protects the lower portion of the PDA and also has touch spaces for the functions. A tap generates punctuation, and a slide makes a key enter a number.

After eight months, I still like the Vision Master Pro 510 CRT monitor from iiyama North America Inc. of Costa Mesa, Calif., for its high resolution, nice digital controls and 19.5-inch-viewable screen. The giant monitor is a relief to strained eyes and is great for training.

A flat-panel LCD is on almost everyone's wish list. For $1,100, about the same price as the iiyama monitor, the SyncMaster 150MP multifunction LCD from Samsung Electronics America Inc. of San Jose, Calif., has a usable screen area as large as that of a 17-inch CRT monitor.

Its images are excellent, but what puts the 150MP in a class by itself is a built-in TV tuner with video connectors. I monitor remote locations with the 150MP, switching between multiple cameras.

Remote cameras can get pricey, and wiring them can be even more expensive. X10 USA Inc. of Closter, N.J., sells a complete XCam2 kit for $170. The kit includes three color cameras with integrated transmitters and audio, remote switched power supplies, a remote control and a receiver.

It takes only minutes to install the cameras at distances up to 100 feet. Just plug them in and point the antennas toward your base location, then plug the receiver into a TV set, VCR or monitor. No need to do any special wiring.

The remote automatically turns one camera off and the next one on, scanning the three views. From one desk, a guard could monitor a parking lot and two entrances. Or maybe everyone in the office would like to see when the copier is free.

Picture this

Another camera among my favorites this year is the 1-pound, palm-sized digital still and video Handycam PC-5 camera from Sony Corp. It can take decent pictures in dim light or do stealth video with built-in infrared illumination. In good light, the image quality is fantastic.

As a point-and-shoot camera, the PC-5 gives good results. The fold-out viewing screen also serves as a touch screen to control many options, including a spot exposure mode for indicating by touch an area of an image you want correctly exposed.

At nearly $1,500 the PC-5 isn't cheap, but it's perfect for unobtrusive video recording, especially in poor lighting conditions. It focuses down to less than an inch and offers sophisticated blue-screen special effects.

Still-image resolution is 640 by 480 pixels, captured directly to a memory stick or to MiniDV tape. That's sufficient for many Web applications. And there are plenty of imput/output ports on the camera.

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

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