Readers respond to best and worst lists with their own picks

John McCormick

Several GCN readers have responded to my columns listing what I think are the best and worst computer inventions of the last 1,000 years.

One first-time reader said I must be a pompous ass, based on my photo. Well, 40 years of poking around inside computers doesn't exactly make you look like Paul Newman, but his e-mail was in good humor.

The reader completely disagreed with my nomination of Microsoft Windows 3.1 as the worst operating environment. He thinks it's one of the best ideas of the millennium. Sorry, I can't agree.

By the way, I do own a pompous ass'a miniature donkey named Jack, who lives in my barn with his two jennets.

Surprisingly, all the other reader response was positive. Many correspondents made suggestions of their own for one list or the other.

One nominated graphical user interfaces for the best list. I'm not against GUIs as long as they are stable and don't intrude too much on my work.

Windows problems

In view of all that's been written about Windows, it's clear that many people are unaware that getting Windows to work isn't supposed to be our main occupation. Most of us merely need to run applications under Windows and would be just as happy if the operating system were completely invisible or at least less obtrusive, like Mac OS.

An Environmental Protection Agency user nominated hyperlinks for the best list and mentioned the Apple HyperCard technology. My thanks to him for the reminder of just how important hyperlinks have become'so important that I took them completely for granted and left them out.

An Agriculture Department user mentioned being a long-time Tandy Corp. Color Computer fan, as I am. He wrote to say that a CoCo helped get him through college.

An Army user sent two lists, one each for best and worst categories. On the best side was any vendor that sponsors user forums so people can help support each other. That's certainly a great concept.

Another of his best nominations was the fax machine. I remember when faxes were smelly, curly thermal paper and included a lot of junk messages. I also disliked faxes because they weren't in ASCII format, making it hard to file and search them. Although the fax machine isn't on my personal best list, I agree that faxing is very useful for offices.

I could certainly relate to his worst nomination: noisy impact printers. He joked that they were part of a 'conspiracy to sell hearing aids to us in our old age.' I can remember the old high-speed IBM Corp. chain printer with soundproofing as bulky as a Volkswagen Beetle. If you think pin-type impact printers were bad, be glad you didn't spend your day loading fanfold paper into a row of those old monsters. An Uzi is quieter in operation.

Another reader agreed with my complaint about wireless phones. He said he overheard a self-important businessman in the Atlanta airport making a big deal about taking very public calls on his phone until a more experienced executive pointed out that 'truly important people have someone to take their calls for them.'

Cocktail napkins vs. PDAs

The reader didn't share my infatuation with personal digital assistants and wondered, 'Whatever happened to cocktail napkins as a note-taking device?'

Good question. Some of my best ideas have dawned over drinks, but I never can read my handwriting the next morning.

A reader at the Agency for International Development nominated a Mac program called Acta that apparently did file organization. He wrote of Acta, 'Here's my vote for 'best of the worst' or 'worst of the best' programs.'

A reader at the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. had a complaint rather than a nomination. He pointed out that merely having an acronym after your name does not guarantee that you know what you're doing. I guess that qualifies as nominating such technical certifications for the worst list.

I agree, if the emphasis is on the certificate rather than on experience. I certainly agree that prepping for and passing a certification test doesn't necessarily qualify anyone to support complex systems.

As the FDIC reader said, 'Sometimes there is no substitute for work experience.'

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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