There is one benefit to the tech slowdown: fewer glitches

Carlos A. Soto

Microsoft Corp. recently established yet another trend by declaring a hiatus on future software production while the company concentrates on fixing all the bugs in its current assortment of programs.

With the technology economy down, other software and hardware companies that have managed to stay afloat are following suit, slowing production of new products to focus on improving what they already have.

Where was this attitude when we needed it?

It's no longer a race to put out the latest product, which I remember fondly from a few years ago, when every company from Intel Corp. to Corel Corp. was introducing a new product every couple of weeks.

I'm nostalgic now, but at the time it was a nightmare in the GCN Lab to test new products whose manufacturers should have been patching up the products that they had created in haste.

I remember testing a firewall that had no Domain Name System proxy, potentially leaving that port'and a network'a sitting duck.

The most unforgettably rushed product I recall was a biometric device that I chose not to include in a September 2000 roundup. It started sparking whenever it was plugged into the computer. The company, which went out of business before the review was published, had no explanation for the disaster except to say that the optical sensor device was rushed through design.

This type of pyrotechnic output from a device wasn't rare in those days. Shortly before the sparking biometric device incident, we had a similar experience with a PC diagnostic card.

The problem was that the manufacturer didn't notice that the card was a little too big for the typical PC in 1999. When we installed the card in a run-of-the-mill Pentium II, the back of the card touched the motherboard. Upon boot-up, smoke poured out of the PC, and after a series of loud pops and electrical explosions, both the card and the PC were fried.

But this year the element of danger seems dimmed by the stagger in the tech markets and the push toward working with what you've got.

The only surprise we've had recently was during tests for the Feb. 4 GCN review of iPicasso IP phones from Congruency Inc. of Rochelle, N.J.

The phones were set up in the GCN Lab via a virtual private network, which connected to the headquarters of Congruency.

After successful test calls around the United States, we started calling overseas. We had no problems getting through to any country except India. We tried six times but couldn't get through.

Little did we know that while trying to dial India, we were summoning the police to Congruency headquarters.

When I called Congruency directly to ask if they had a block on calls to India, they informed me that we had been calling the cops and asked us to please stop.

I told them we were calling India, not the New Jersey State Police, and gave them the string of numbers. After a minute of silence, they determined that the string of numbers used to call India had 911 in the middle. Congruency's computers scanned for any 911 string and routed calls to the police. This problem was fixed and eventually we did get to talk to someone in India.

This year, we've had fewer products to review, but fewer lemons, too.

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