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Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited
Dick Tracy Time?
Wowie zowie. The January 18, 2000 PC Magazine profiles Samsung's new watch-phone, which not only lets you make calls from your wrist but supposedly includes voice recognition and text-to-speech support. That means (hold that fedora!) you can program frequently used phone numbers, place calls without a data entry pad, and get your e-mail messages read to you.
You thought that good (95% accurate) speech recognition required huge amounts of disk space and computer power? But no! Conversa (who?) has "developed a version of its software that fits into small devices" such as this watch with its 30MHz processor. HP and Swatch are working on a Webwatch, and IBM is exploring "wrist-top computing."
I'm an old Berkeley hand. I remember when we made assumptions about people going down the street talking to themselves. Now, I suppose we should assume they're avatars of the Internet Economy.
Redoing the Profile
Gateway introduced its Profile all-in-one computer a few months ago, with the works built into the back of a 15" LCD screen. While the design was snazzy, putting the drives in back of the screen made them clumsy to work with-and the computer was a little underconfigured as well.
The Profile 2cx corrects most of the original's problems, according to a January 4, 2000 review in PC Magazine. Instead of a thick screen on a slender base, the new version has a slender screen and a slightly bulbous 9 x 10" base, with the drives in the base. The hard disk is now 20GB, there's an Ethernet adapter as well as a V.90 modem, and the unit includes a DVD-ROM drive-and, unlike Apple's new systems, a diskette drive. Add 64MB RAM, power with a Celeron-500, and add five USB ports, and it's a fairly powerful system. It's not cheap at $1,999, but given the $1,000 you'd pay for a 15" LCD display, the price may be fair. This isn't a portable computer, but it does have a handle and weighs in at 22 pounds.
There are still problems-specifically with the sound, as you might expect from any PC with built-in stereo speakers. The software-based audio is "below par," and weak enough that PC Magazine's reviewer doesn't consider this system useful for watching DVD movies. But if sound isn't important but space is, and you can live without serial and parallel ports, this may be a contender.
InDesign: Adobe Strikes Back?
Two desktop publishing programs dominate the Mac platform-which, in turn, dominates desktop publishing. As Deke McClelland puts it, the choice has been "the powerful but clumsy QuarkXPress" and "the limited Adobe PageMaker, which combines an awkward interface with a feature set that has remained static for the past decade." QuarkXPress has become the dominant program, according to most reports.
InDesign is Adobe's new entry, and McClelland offers a thoughtfully mixed review in the December 1999 Macworld. He gives it "an A for interface and innovation, a B for the scope of its features, and a D for its excessive hardware requirements." PageMaker isn't going away; Adobe targets the two programs at different markets.
I found the review a bit bewildering, but then I'm a Windows user, and what I look for in desktop publishing clearly isn't what McClelland cares about. InDesign doesn't have a story editor for rapid text editing: that would disqualify the program immediately for my uses. On the other hand, I have never worried about optical kerning or multiline composition-and when I used hanging punctuation (an InDesign feature that Ventura Publisher's had for five years now), wiser heads convinced me to disable it.
I'm surprised at McClelland's complaint about InDesign's machine requirements. It needs a PowerPC 604 CPU, OS 8.5 or later, and 48MB RAM. On the PC side, you need Windows 98 and a Pentium II. Basically, you need a machine that's no more than a couple of years old and has today's operating system: is that unrealistic for high-end desktop publishing?
Better LCD Panels
The February 22, 2000 PC Magazine notes an intriguing technological tweak that could make LCD displays bigger and cheaper. As with most promises of wonderful new flat-screen technologies, don't hold your breath, but this one's worth watching. The system is called Fluidic Self-Assembly. It starts with millions of transistors on tiny little "nanoblocks." The nanoblocks are suspended in a liquid, then poured over a surface with nanoblock-shaped holes. The blocks fit in the holes; excess blocks are recovered for reuse. Presto: you have a big, cheap, flawless LCD panel. If it all works right and makes sense in a manufacturing environment, that is.
As for today's best LCDs, PC Magazine for March 7, 2000 reviews two 18" LCD displays that both earn PC's highest rating. These two units offer fine image quality at their native 1280×1024 resolution, and I find that to be an ideal resolution for this screen size (my home CRT has 18 viewable inches). Oddly, the review doesn't show the size or weight of either display, but it's fair to assume that they're much thinner and lighter than comparable CRTs. There is one little problem. The Nokia 800PRO+ costs $3,000 and the ViewSonic VP181 costs $3,400-and, as the review notes, that's five to ten times as much as comparable CRTs. Part of me wants one, but not for $1,000 more than I paid for my entire computer system.
Finding Your Inner Faulkner
I've always had a simple answer to questions about how I write so much: I just set the word processor on automatic and go watch television. (There's also the hidden function in MS Word 2000, AutoExpand. It's the opposite of AutoSummarize: you write the abstract, tell AutoExpand how many times longer the actual article should be, and let 'er rip.)
Maybe this isn't so silly. The March 2000 Macworld reviews two fiction-writing tools-not fancy word processors, but software to conceive stories. Ashleywilde offers Plots Unlimited 1.04 for $199; it includes a database of 5,600 conflict situations, each linked with up to 18 related conflicts. Start by choosing a conflict, then choose prior "leadin" conflicts and later "leadout" conflicts. "Create enough conflict situations, and you end up with a plot." (The program is also somewhat of a time machine: it ships on diskettes and, according to Macworld, "feels like a DOS application ported to the Mac.")
Screenplay Systems wants $300 for Dramatica Pro 4.0. To use it, you learn the Dramatica Theory of drama. In the Story Engine, you answer 24 questions about your story; Dramatica Pro then generates reports on theme, plot, and character development-all you have to do is fill in the words.
Why not? Plots Unlimited argues that plots are anything but unlimited, and all the words you need for any novel are available in handy alphabetized form, with meanings attached. I've certainly seen books, TV shows, and movies that seemed to be written by computer.
PC Values: March 2000
The standard configuration includes 128MB SDRAM, 16x or faster CD-ROM, AGP graphics adapter with 16MB SGRAM, V.90 fax/ modem or 10/100 Ethernet adapter, wavetable sound card, speakers, and a 15.6-16" (viewable measure) display. "Pluses" and "Minuses" are shown where applicable, along with hard disk size and software. Top systems are taken from Dell, Gateway, and micronPC Web sites as of March 2, 2000.
Top Budget: Dell Dimension XPS T700r: Pentium III-700, 20GB HD. Minuses: 64MB SDRAM. Pluses: 32MB SGRAM. Extras: MS Works Suite 2000, Altec Lansing speakers with subwoofer. $1,589, VR 10.28 (no change since 12/99, +10% since 9/99).
Top, Midrange: Dell Dimension XPS T700r (different configuration): Similar to budget system, but with 128MB SDRAM, 18" display, DVD-ROM drive. $1,999, VR 9.34 (+8% since 12/99, +20% since 9/99).
Top, Power: Gateway Performance 800: Pentium III-800, 30GB HD. Pluses: 18" display with 32MB SGRAM, DVD-ROM drive. Extras: MS Works Suite 2000, Boston Acoustics speaker with subwoofer, network adapter. $2,499, VR 8.87 (+11% since 12/99, +27% since 9/99).
Other, Budget: Quantex SM700s: Pentium III-700, 20GB HD. Pluses: 32MB graphics SGRAM, DVD-ROM drive. Extras: Corel WordPerfect Office 2000, Altec Lansing speakers with subwoofer. $1,699, VR 10.78 (-3% since 12/99, +14% since 9/99).
Other, Midrange: Quantex SM733x: Pentium III-733, 20GB HD. Similar to budget system, but with 18" display, Zip drive. $1,999, VR 9.73 (+15% since 12/99, +9% since 9/99).
Other, Power: Quantex SM800z: Pentium III-800, 30GB HD. Similar to budget system, but with 18" display, CD-RW drive, MS Office 2000 Small Business Edition. $2,499, VR 9.13 (+16% since 12/99, +34% since 9/99).
Computer Shopper Evolves
Ziff-Davis seems to be changing most of its magazines in some fashion. I discussed the final degradation of PC/Computing in an earlier issue. That magazine's title is now changing so that it's clearly a business magazine-and, after all, don't we need a few more "new business" magazines? PC Magazine has a strikingly different look, with new typefaces, more businesslike covers, and a peculiar content layout that puts letters roughly a third of the way through the magazine. Reviews now include five-dot ratings for those too lazy to study the text carefully. PC Magazine also seems thinner than before, and I'm wondering whether we'll still see the magnificent long articles that made PC Magazine the bible of the industry.
Now it's Computer Shopper's turn. This magazine, older than PC Magazine, has always been an odd duck, and I've alternated between subscribing and ignoring it. The USPS can't have cared for Computer Shopper: it was tabloid size and typically 500 pages or more, a great sloppy beast of a magazine alternating between slick four-color pages and newsprint sections. As the name implies, Computer Shopper has been as much a "shopper" as a magazine, with huge swaths of advertising from companies you may never have heard of.
The March 2000 issue changes most of that. It's still thick (but thinner than before, at 346 pages), but the size is now a fairly standard 8.3 x 10.9" and the whole magazine is four-color printing on slick magazine stock. I suspect the ad rates increased enough to knock out some of the bottom-feeding companies, but that's just a suspicion. Quite a few of the old ads were simply blown-up versions of regular letter-size ads, so the change makes sense for the big companies-and it's a lot easier to handle. I don't sense that there's less editorial content, but that's not clear just yet.
I was bemused by John Blackford's essay introducing the new Computer Shopper. For some reason, he believes that the change is all about the Internet, and unsurprisingly he uses funny numbers to make his case. He asserts that "the recent holiday's Web sales of 7 to 8 billion dollars said it: We are now on Internet time." Set aside the considerable uncertainty as to whether those sales were $7 billion, $8 billion, or $5 billion-without the context of overall holiday sales, the numbers are meaningless.
Two days after I read Blackford's essay, Reuters reported the first US Commerce Department estimate of "e-commerce"-and Reuters' reporter had the good sense to provide context. US online retail sales for October-December 1999 came to $5.3 billion. That's a lot of money, without any question, and probably twice as much as the previous year. If Blackford's numbers are for worldwide sales, $7 to $8 billion is plausible. But here's the context: total US retail sales for October-December 1999 came to $821.2 billion. In other words, online sales represented 0.6 percent of all US retail sales. When you hear that the Net is ruining local merchants, consider that context.
Blackford goes on to say, "The Web is like the sea, within which all commerce and media will swim." Emphasis mine-but read that again. All commerce. Pretty big claims and, to my mind, wildly unlikely; certainly The Industry Standard makes no such grandiose claims.
After some more blather, Blackford notes that the new trim size "matches today's innovative Web-savvy magazines." It also matches such hot new items as Time, Newsweek, Harper's, and other Web-savvy magazines like Car and Driver. What does a standard magazine trim size have to do with being Web-savvy? Nothing that I can see. It's a good change that makes the magazine more acceptable to postal carriers and newsstands. The change has nothing to do with the Web.
Unless, of course, you're trying to hype your own operation by claiming that everything is about the Web. I'm surprised they didn't change the name to Computer eShopper. Maybe next year.
Schworm, P. (1999), "Patent office picks DVD-ROM as storage standard," EMedia, Vol. 12 No. 10, p. 28.
Am I suggesting you should read this article? Not necessarily-but there's an interesting note buried within it. The gist of the article is in the title: the US Patent and Trademark Office plans to publish 210 years of archived patents on some 400 DVD-ROM discs. The patents will be scanned and stored as multipage TIFF files using CCITT Group 4 compression, with keyword access through OCR text conversion.
The project began with CD-ROMs in 1987, but with three terabytes of scanned data, would require more than 5,000 CD-ROMs. If you know the ratios, you'll spot an interesting aspect of these DVD-ROMs: they're dual-layer DVD-ROMs, storing 9GB per disc rather than the base 4.7GB. DVD-ROM jukeboxes are already available (they're just CD-ROM jukeboxes with new drives), and it's plausible to have a 400-disc jukebox.
Here's the interesting part, thrown away as the last sentence of the penultimate paragraph:
"The PTO DVD discs must contain 7.95GB of data that is secure and unerasable and will remain readable for 100 years."
First, there's the assertion that dual-layer pressed DVD-ROMs will be physically readable a century from now; that's a longevity assertion I hadn't seen before. But it's not the key issue. That issue is simple enough: will there be affordable DVD-ROM readers a century from now? The history of digital technology makes that an unlikely proposition. But then, DVD-ROM is probably as good as any other medium: there are no archival media, and PTO probably knows that.
AutoComplete in IE5
Neil J. Rubenking offers a useful commentary on AutoComplete in the February 8, 2000 PC Magazine. If you use Internet Explorer 5 and haven't changed the default settings, you're probably aware of AutoComplete. Not only does it offer you a set of probable URLs as you begin to type in a new Web address (Navigator does this as well, albeit differently)-it also offers to complete common fields within Web forms, after you've filled in one Web form. Start to key your name and the whole name pops up; ditto your street address, city, and maybe even your credit card number.
The good news is that you can turn off AutoComplete-and that the entries that show up are encrypted in the Registry and should be safe from attack via the Internet. You must actually click on a form element that matches something you've done before, and explicitly select one of the offered completions; it's not possible for a form to go fetch the AutoComplete entries. The bad news is that, if you don't watch your settings, you might be saving a little more than you expected. AutoComplete will also happily remember your usernames and passwords from login forms. If your computer is at home and you trust everyone in the house, that's great. Otherwise, anybody walking up to your office computer can access your password-protected sites-and use your credit card number, if that's been saved.
The Internet Options line on IE5's Tools menu includes a Content tab, which in turn has a Personal Information panel, which has an AutoComplete... button. For any work computer, click on that button and make sure that "User names and passwords on forms" is not checked, and then click "Clear Passwords" just below that. If you're nervous about AutoComplete in general, you can also uncheck "Web addresses" and "Forms" and click "Clear forms" to get rid of any saved entries. Web address autocompletion prompts go away when you clear your history ("Clear History" on the General tab in Internet Options): unlike form completions, such prompts come directly from the current history.
Spanbauer, S. (2000), "Kill bugs dead," PC World, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 110-20.
This compilation offers a surprisingly useful list of bugs in commonly used software and what you can do to avoid or eliminate them. It's less alarmist than most articles of this type, and well worth reading if you run Windows software. I was surprised, however, by the claim that Windows 95 was more stable than Windows 98; that certainly hasn't been my experience!
Izorek, S. (2000), "Stocking e-book shelves," Computer Shopper, Vol. 20 No. 3, p. 65.
I just love funny numbers-and when it comes to the inevitable triumph of e-books, the numbers can get pretty funny. This item proclaims that interest in "this novel type of device" is gaining-but it's not quite clear what this type of device is. E-book readers continue to do so poorly that manufacturers won't mention sales numbers (and both major companies have been sold). The big success mentioned here, netLibrary, sells digital access to texts and has found an interesting niche. The illustrations are the two existing e-book devices-and, as usual, real-world photos can't make them look like pleasant ways to read even under the best-staged conditions.
But look at the numbers. Forrester Research, gung ho as always, thinks e-books will take off in "a big way by 2004." Forrester forecasts $246 million in digital downloads that year-"14 percent of all online book sales in 2004." That means Forrester is also projecting $1.75 billion in online book sales. Forrester also believes that $34 million in digital book sales will happen this year.
How do they get from almost none (1999 sales) to $34 million (2000 projections) to more than seven times that figure in just four years? They make it up, of course, probably based on interviews with companies that want to sell all those digital downloads. But set that aside for the more interesting point, for those who believe that all but online book sales are doomed. (Let's not even talk about the many 1990s futurists who proclaimed that all print book sales are doomed, and should have been half gone by now.)
The overall book market last year (in the USA) was a little over $24 billion according to the American Association of Publishers (although other sources come up with $31 billion). Let's assume that it grows by a paltry three percent a year, to around $28 billion in 2004. That would mean that online book sales-86 percent of them resulting in physical shipments of print books-will represent just over six percent of overall book sales in 2004, with e-books accounting for a little less than one percent of all books-up from fourteen-hundredths of one percent this year. (Yes, I know, these numbers ignore offline book sales outside the USA; if you include them, the digital percentages are even lower.)
Clearly, the end is nigh.
Gens, F. (2000), "Analyst insight: Net business predictions for the year," Industry Standard, Vol. 3 No. 5, p. 274.
Frank Gens is senior VP of Internet research for IDC, one of the more respectable forecasting outfits. This one-page article offers his ten top predictions for 2000-and it might be worth saving for review at year's end. Since these are one-year projections, you don't find as many flights of fancy as in typical multiyear forecasts. In my own semi-Luddite ignorance, I find just two of the ten a bit unlikely. He seems to say that the "free" ISP and PC models will thrive; he also says that e-wallets will finally reach critical mass by this holiday season. Even on those two, note that I'm saying "a bit unlikely." I also have some questions about his assertion that 137 million US citizens will be "online" by the end of 2000-but a lot depends on how you count and what you mean by online.
New Kinds of Commerce
When you use digital media to tell stories that books would tell better, you're substituting flash for substance. When you use digital media to tell old stories more effectively, you're doing much better. But the real payoff comes when people use digital media to tell new stories, kinds of narrative (and non-narrative) that don't work in other media. I haven't mentioned that much here, but it's a growing personal theme in other arenas.
It goes beyond stories. Of course the Internet and the Web affect many existing forms of commerce, although rarely as dramatically as the pundits would have us believe. But isn't it more interesting to look at new kinds of commerce (and nonprofit "commerce" for that matter)? John Dvorak's column in the March 7, 2000 PC Magazine introduces something that qualifies, in my opinion. The site he discusses is Novica (you can guess the site name), but there should be similar operations as well. A caveat here: I don't entirely trust Dvorak's judgment, and I don't know enough to verify anything about Novica independently: this is not an endorsement.
Novica sells ethnic arts and handicrafts, working out of small offices around the world and dealing directly with the artists. They take digital pictures of the items, post them on the Web site, and sell the items-removing pictures of unique items as they're sold. In a way, it's like catalog sales for art galleries-but the costs of posting Web pictures are so much lower that this can work for items other than very expensive paintings.
The example used here is a pot. A Novica executive claims that the pot sells for $350 at Bloomingdale's-and that Novica sells the same pot, by the same artist, for $11. So far, typical enough: Novica is exploiting the starving artist. Except that, according to Dvorak's story, the artist gets more from Novica than they would from Bloomingdale's. The more industrious local artists drop in at local Novica offices, see what's selling and what isn't, and adjust their styles to match. That may degrade the purity of folk art-but it means a better living for the locals.
I'm not sure about the example. I am sure that the Internet should, and will, introduce new kinds of transactions-ones that don't take away from effective existing businesses but actually add new elements to the world economy. There's a bigger example, to be sure: eBay and its competitors, making it possible for Everyman to participate in auctions as both buyer and seller. That's something new; it's not just moving transactions from the real world to the Net. To use one of today's trite phrases, it's wealth creation-which is certainly not evil on its merits.
"That is so last century"
To fight cliché with cliché: Give me a break. This particular tiresome line is the second half of a specious Compaq slogan, the first being "A computer?" Compaq's pushing the "iPAQ," which it calls the "first Internet device for business." No, I'm not objecting on purist lines-maybe this really is the last year of the twentieth century, but who cares? I'm also at the point of screaming about "that is so last millennium," "that is so the nineties," and all the rest-not just the idea that a calendar change means the past is irrelevant, but the cutesy way of saying it.
As for the iPAQ itself, it's basically a slim desktop computer with no removable disk drives-neither diskette nor CD-ROM. It runs Windows 2000 and has either a Celeron or a Pentium III processor, so it's not some kind of Internet appliance. It's not all that cheap. The smaller model costs $499, but once you add a 16" display you're up to $800 for a Celeron-500 with 64MB RAM and a 4GB hard disk. (That's for an old-fashioned fat CRT. For a display that matches the styling of the slender computer, like the one in the ad, you pay $1,169, bringing the price up to $1,668 without sound, removable drives, or application software: some cheap computer!) I assume that the iPAQ includes high-speed Ethernet, although it doesn't say so in the ad. The hard disk makes this something other than a thin terminal, which "Internet computing" would imply.
The virtues of the iPAQ seem to be its size and lack of "legacy" ports (there are no available slots, and the only ports are USB). It's designed to be configured by system administrators and, as delivered, can't be modified-you can't load your own software from CD-ROMs or diskettes. But of course, you could always add a USB CD-ROM or diskette drive-and you can download software from the Internet. So what's the point?
Oh. I forgot. Logical reasons for a new design: that's so last century.
Add "that is so last..." this to "inevitable" on my short list of red flags: words and phrases that immediately raise my BS detector to red-alert level.
Trillions and Trillions
The Industry Standard's headline is "B-to-Bigger Than God?" and the story is an estimate from Bank of America Securities. To wit, that esteemed group estimates that total "b-to-b" (business-to-business) transactions this year will be $50 trillion. In a story that runs less than half a page, The Industry Standard uses those numbers to offer some important comments on economic forecasts.
Last year, the gross domestic product in the USA was about $9 trillion, including roughly $3 trillion in retail sales (including as much as $20 billion in online retail sales). Yes, the GDP undercounts transactions in some ways, as it measures the final value of all goods and services produced in the USA. If you buy a couch, there are at least two levels of purchase: the finished couch, but also the wood and fabric used to build it. So if you add up all the market figures for every industry, you'd come up with a lot more than $9 trillion. The government rule of thumb is that gross total output is about twice the GDP, or something like $18 trillion for last year.
How do you get from $18 trillion (or, say, $20 trillion for 2000, assuming hefty growth during the year) to $50 trillion? By counting every transaction along the way as part of the total. So, for example, when I purchased Tim Berners-Lee's Weaving the Web from Barnes & Noble, that didn't count for $21. Instead, you take Harper San Francisco's purchase of printing paper and ink, Ingram's purchase of books from Harper SF, Barnes & Noble's purchase of books from Ingram, and finally my purchase of the single book: a minimum of four transactions, and quite possibly more along the way.
The author of the BofA report says you need to inflate the figures that way to gauge the "true b-to-b opportunity." Greg Dalton of The Industry Standard calls it "analyst one-upsmanship gone out of control." I'm with Dalton.
The Man Can't Bust Our Music
Other old fogies may remember that slogan, used in a Columbia Records marketing campaign. It was mordantly amusing, since by most standards Columbia was "the man." It was a little like police department recruiting posters with cops flashing peace signs: a little too much irony for many people. (If you're too young to remember Columbia, it was the company that introduced LP records, Bob Dylan, the magnificent corpus of Stravinsky conducting Stravinsky, Simon and Garfunkel, one of the most extensive catalogs of contemporary American classical music, Dave Brubeck, and lots more. Sony bought the company and changed the name.)
How times have changed! With the Web, everything's out in the open-or at least it is when old-fashioned print journalists do a little digging. The Industry Standard for February 14, 2000 has a brief note about a Web site called Phonebashing.com. The site shows videos of guys dressed up as cell phones stealing other people's phones and destroying them. The site also has an anti-cell-phone song, "I Wanna 1-2-1," by the Solid Gold All-Stars.
So far so good. Solid Gold All-Stars records for Virgin Music, but Phonebashing.com says that the site has nothing to do with Virgin. After all, Virgin is a big company-or, rather, a subsidiary of EMI Music, one of the five biggest music companies.
The Industry Standard did the enormously difficult research to dig into this. They checked Phonebashing.com on the Net registries. Guess who owns the site? EMI Music.
Or, to quote the Who: "Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss."
Somers, A. (2000), "The bottom line on free PCs," Computer Shopper, Vol. 20 No. 3, pp. 155-64.
Considering a "free" PC? This article might be worth reading, although it overstates the questionable case for these units. Computer Shopper acquired half a dozen "free" or heavily subsidized PCs and considered the overall costs and how well the units perform. It turns out that "free" really means $946 to $1,224 for relatively low-end systems, with a variety of restrictions on your choice of Internet service provider. Since you can also get free ISP service (maybe, if you don't mind ads, and if the companies survive), most people are better off buying the PCs they really need.
Somers, A. (2000), "Dressed-up desktops," Computer Shopper, Vol. 20 No. 2, pp. 156-65.
This unusual group review concentrates on "stylish" computers-various moves away from the traditional, boring-but-functional beige box. A sidebar covers six new ideas that weren't ready for testing-one of them, oddly, the NEC Z1 supposedly introduced months ago. The primary report includes five computers: two all-in-one computers looking vaguely like the iMac and three PCs using LCD displays. The reviews don't arrive at single ratings, but offer one to five stars in each of four areas: innovation, ease of use, bang for the buck, and "wow factor."
The most conservative system is probably Compaq's $1,999 Presario 3550, an all-black system that combines a fairly traditional midtower case with separate 15" LCD monitor, flat Monsoon speakers, keyboard and mouse; it ranks high on "wow factor" but I can't imagine why-unless it's the surprising inclusion of a CD-RW drive at this price level.
Closest to the iMac in appearance is eMachines' $849 eOne with its translucent blue case: Apple has sued for copyright, presumably based on trade dress. The eOne is nowhere near as sleek as the iMac, but it's cheap. Even cheaper is Gateway's beige Astro, the cheapest system in the roundup but also the least powerful. A much more interesting option is Gateway's $1,799 Profile 2, which builds the PC itself into the base of a 15" LCD-a much better design than the original Profile. It scores well on everything but "bang for the buck." Finally, NEC's $2,499 PowerMate 2000 also builds the PC into an LCD's base, but with much more corporate, less intriguing styling-and you're paying $700 more for a nearly identical configuration with less applications software.
The only one of these I'd consider would be the Gateway Profile 2, but with the DVD upgrade, a faster processor, and a bigger hard disk: at $1,999, that upgraded system would make a neat unit where space is a major factor.
Stafford, A. (2000), "The movie makers: Sony PC vs. Apple iMac," PC World, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 76-7.
Two PCs particularly well suited to video editing, both with IEEE 1394 "FireWire" ports and "loaded with tools to turn you into the next Martin Scorsese." The Sony VAIO Slimtop PCV-L620 costs $2,300 with a 13GB hard disk, 128MB RAM, DVD-ROM drive, and V.90 modem-but that includes a 14.1" LCD display, the most expensive single component. The similarly equipped Apple iMac DV Special Edition is cheap by comparison at $1,499, but that's with the normal built-in 14" CRT. They're both sleek systems; the iMac is the gray model that's almost fully transparent, while the Sony is light purple and has a slender "SlimTop" system box.
You know how this one's going to turn out, right? After all, PC World is a PC magazine. You'd be wrong. They judge the iMac the better of the two for easy video editing because its software is better as well as its price. The Sony is powerful but much less intuitive to use.
My only thoughts on this are that 13GB seems sort of small for a video workstation, given the cheapness of hard disks these days, and that a 14" display seems undersized for video work. But if someone asked me (as a long-time PC and Windows loyalist) what system to buy for video editing, I'd probably say "Start with Macs, and look at Sony VAIO if you don't like the Macs."
Graphics and Displays
Overton, R. (2000), "Is flat where it's at?," PC World, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 173-86.
This roundup of 19" (18"-viewable) displays doesn't quite answer the question. It's also plagued by PC World's usual methodology: they tested 23 units but only provide details on the top ten, and only two units can be rated Best Buy because that's the PC World way.
The two Best Buys are an oddly varied pair. Samsung's $386 SyncMaster 950P is remarkably cheap for this screen size and scored well in most areas; it has a traditional CRT and requires much more desk space than most units reviewed here. Dell's UltraScan P991 is a more typical "contemporary" unit, with a flat Sony FD Trinitron screen, but it's also more expensive-although $559 isn't all that much for a good Trinitron display. Sony wants $700 for its own version, and if you can spare the bucks it offers the best graphics quality in the roundup.
Freed, L. (2000), "Stretch your storage," PC Magazine, Vol. 19 No. 4, pp. 149-68.
Need more space on your local area network? There may be an easier alternative to new or upgraded file servers: network-attached storage (NAS) servers. They're cheap and reasonably simple. This review covers nine turnkey NAS servers with Fast Ethernet connections, costing $6,000 or less. The resulting devices cover a wide range of prices and services, with per-gigabyte prices ranging from $33 to $215. Editors' Choice for small workgroups is Quantum's $1,800 Snap Server; NSS' $6,000 µStor 1U is better for large workgroups.
Carlson, K. (2000), "The reference desk," FamilyPC, Vol. 7 No. 2, pp. 120-2.
Family testers looked at six recent "reference" programs-four encyclopedias and reference suites, an atlas, and the new version of National Geographic Maps. The ratings are based on family-use criteria, including satisfaction, ease of use, long-term usefulness, and features.
Unsurprisingly, Encarta Reference Suite 2000 gathers the highest rating, a strong 90. All three of the other encyclopedic products also hit the 85 cutoff for recommendation. Compton's Encyclopedia 2000 Deluxe is a surprising second at 87, with the World Book Millennium 2000 Premier Reference Library and Year 2000 Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia Deluxe tied at 85.
National Geographic Maps 2 didn't do nearly as well this time around as the original version did in June 1999-but then it was evaluated as a "digital coffee table book" rather than a reference tool. According to the writeup (I'll be testing this one soon), the maps are gorgeous but the index is incomplete-and there's no easy way to get from an index entry to a specific spot on a map.
English, D. (2000), "Multimedia know-it-alls," Computer Shopper, Vol. 20 No. 2, pp. 300-308.
This roundup includes the same four encyclopedias as FamilyPC's roundup (but only the encyclopedia portions of the two reference suites), adding the Simon & Schuster New Millennium Encyclopedia. The latter is yet another iteration of Funk & Wagnall's, with lots of video. This review offers specific comments on each encyclopedia, including the results of searching each encyclopedia and its Web adjuncts for "Monica Lewinsky," "DVD," and "codfish." A scorecard shows A through D grades for readability, depth of content, multimedia, search results, and Internet integration.
One product gets "A"s across the board and the Best Buy honor, and you already know the name-Encarta scores again. None of the others managed more than one "A": Compton's scores high for readability while World Book gets honors for Internet integration. Biggest weaknesses? Simon & Schuster gets "D" grades for depth, search results, and Internet integration. Nobody else falls so low; Compton's earns "C"s for depth and search results, Grolier for multimedia and Internet integration, and World Book for search results-while Simon & Schuster gets "C"s for its two best features, readability and multimedia. Looking at the grades, World Book is clearly in second place.
Jacobi, J. (2000), "Hello, get me rewrite!," PC World, Vol. 18 No. 3, pp. 147-60.
The best general-purpose removable storage in today's market is almost certainly CD-RW. This roundup includes 13 CD-RW drives, most costing less than $300. You don't get individual writeups, but in general it's a worthwhile article and good snapshot of the market. The general commentary is mostly good, including a fairly obvious point: consumer CD-R drives (for computers) are probably doomed, since CD-RW drives offer a lot more versatility for very little more money. Indeed, I haven't seen many CD-R drives in recent months, except in the form of audio recorders.
I suspect there are several good choices among the group of recorders, and it isn't clear that any of them are poor values (although one Philips drive ran more slowly than the rest of the pack). The sole Best Buy goes to HP's $269 CD-Writer Plus 9110i for its consistently high speed, excellent features, and pain-free installation-but I'd look closely at the rest of the top ten, some of which cost less than $200. Most of these are EIDE/ATA drives; the three SCSI devices didn't necessarily perform any better, and the fastest of them (the Sony Spressa Professional CRX140S/C) costs a surprising $399.
Labriola, D. (2000), "Sound values," Computer Shopper, Vol. 20 No. 3, pp. 168-72.
If you want to enjoy audio CDs while you're working at your computer, or if you're a gamer or into MP3, you need decent speakers. That used to mean shelling out around $150 to $200 for good three-part systems from Altec Lansing, Boston Acoustics, or Cambridge Soundworks. According to this roundup, you can now get decent sound for less than $100.
The magazine's Best Buy seal goes to Sonigistix' $99 Monsoon MH-500 Multimedia Speaker System. Runners-up are the $84 Cambridge SoundWorks Digital and $99 Altec Lansing ATP3. Naturally, these brief reviews don't include any objective tests of frequency response, although such tests would be revealing and useful.
Miastkowski, S. (2000), "Bullet-proof PC protection," PC World, Vol. 18 No. 2, pp. 124-36.
This roundup of utility software makes big claims for inclusiveness: "23 utilities to help you ward off viruses and other nasties..." It's not a bad article, but it's also not a complete survey-and I'd assert that there are closer to 15 separate products than 23, given the inclusion of utility suites. They reject Mijenix' Fix-It as not being a full utility suite-and proceed not to test it in any of the categories that it fills!
Usual grumpiness aside, you will get some good information from this article and some reasonable advice about configuring suites. When it comes to Best Buys, it all boils down to one (with a single exception). To wit, the Best Buy for antivirus software is Norton AntiVirus 2000; for diagnostic utilities, Norton Utilities 2000; for uninstallers, Norton CleanSweep 2000; and for utility suites, Norton SystemWorks 2000-which happens to include all of those other Norton products. The only exception is an "undoer," GoBack from Wild File.
Brown, M., and Brown, B. (2000), "Web phones," PC Magazine, Vol. 19 No. 5, pp. 32-6.
Luddite admission: I don't own a cell phone or a pager. I don't check e-mail from hotel rooms. I really wonder about "surfing the Web" on a screen that shows three lines of 12 characters each! But that's the premise of one of the eight devices reviewed here-although that's also the worst case. If you're desperate to get at tiny little pieces of the Web while you're cutting off other drivers in your SUV, this article's for you. (I know that's unfair; cell phone users spend more time annoying other diners in restaurants and bumping into people on sidewalks than they do weaving through traffic while dialing out.)
The biggest display, Qualcomm's pdQ Smart Phone, offers 12 lines, 36 characters each-but it's heavy (10 ounces), big (7 x 2.5 x 1.3"), and expensive ($799), and the battery life is nothing to brag about. It's really a modified Palm III PDA. The article says that the best compromise between small size and display adequacy is the $400 Sprint PCS NP-1000. It offers nine lines, roughly 17 characters each, in a 6.6oz. device that measures 6.2 x 2.1 x 1".
Future Trends 5
Only one CD-ROM this time around, and it's an odd one. Described as "the basic information source for research into the future," this annual OECD publication combines an index to thousands of articles and books about the future (with 250-word abstracts and deep indexing) with a set of essays based on some of those documents and conference proceedings from OECD's Forums for the Future.
This text-only CD-ROM (there may be graphics, but I never encountered any) uses normal Windows control methodologies to navigate through three different databases. The primary database, Future Studies, consists of some 8,500 entries for future-oriented references. Each entry includes a carefully written 250-word abstract and appropriate bibliographic information. All access to Future Studies is through a search box that combines full-text searching with fielded searching (apparently for every field in the record, including language, date, author, geographical descriptors, and others). The search box is typical of advanced search routines in Windows-based systems, presenting users with a box (and switchable Boolean operator) for each and every option. Fortunately, you can also view and search a word list for each field; unfortunately, the word lists don't include result counts (which would seem to be an easy addition).
Executing a search adds a hit number to each box in the search window, but you still need to press Hit List to get a list of results. That list, unfortunately, is entirely in capital letters; it begins unsorted, but can be sorted alphabetically or by date. From the list, you can select records. By default, each step will replace the previous window (search, hit list, or record display) with the new window, but there are controls to display all windows in overlapping or tiled form-and tiled windows can be resized or closed to meet your needs.
You can use your own choice of typeface and size for record displays, which is nice (and unusual for CD-ROMs), although the displays use more interline spacing than I'd really prefer and use the full width of the open window. Any record can be printed out or exported in ASCII or RTF form. I found that the RTF exports worked well in Word, although there's an extra (empty) paragraph mark between each two paragraphs in extended texts.
That's the basic content of this CD-ROM: an annotated, searchable bibliography on the future. I could quarrel with the selections, which seem quirky in many cases, but that's always true. The sales material for the disc seems to argue that OECD has made the selections, so that journalists and researchers don't need to check other references-which I would argue is false and a little dangerous. But that's a sales pitch; despite its incompleteness and total lack of tools for judging whether the more extreme futurists have track records worth considering, the Future Trends section is a decent starting point.
I'm not sure what to make of the other sections. Highlights offers a handful of topical essays that seem to summarize the "findings" of recent documents in Future Studies, with hotlinks to each document used for the summaries but with little or no critical judgment. Forum offers reports prepared for OECD's Forums for the Future during the 1990s, with "leading international experts" exchanging views on specific long-term issues. For both of these sections, and for an introductory section, a table of contents is available and is the easiest way to navigate the material.
In some ways, it appears that this CD-ROM hasn't changed much from the way it probably was in its first annual incarnation. The user guide refers to the need for MSCDEX and SHARE.EXE, references that have no meaning in Windows 95 or 98, and the CD-ROM doesn't support AutoPlay either for installation or operation. You probably can change the path for installation (although that wasn't entirely obvious), but you can't choose a folder: it insists on starting its own folder. Installation required about 7MB disk space. The program scales to fill any screen and works nicely with other programs. I found searching and display to be adequately fast.
I probably expected more from this expensive product (the prices here are for single-user versions; a version that supports networking costs twice as much). That's my problem. Some academic and corporate libraries will find this disc well worth the money, and some larger public libraries might consider it. Still, users should be aware that you'll find items like a near-term projection that the written word will become redundant-with no critical commentary on such an outlandish projection.
|Future Trends 5|
|***: Very Good |
|$510 ($408 for most libraries)|
|Washington office: http://www.oecdwash.org, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org|
Crawford's Corner is written by Walt Crawford, an information architect at the Research Libraries Group, Inc. (RLG). Opinions herein do not reflect those of RLG or MCB University Press. Comments should be sent to email@example.com. CD-ROMs and DVD-ROMs for review should be sent to Walt Crawford, c/o RLG, 1200 Villa Street, Mountain View, CA 94041-1100; Windows only. Visit my Web site: http://home.att.net/~walt.crawford.