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Looking Back 3: The Rest of 1995
The lead perspective in October 1995 was "Mac clones and the second platform," where I questioned Apple's commitment to clones and worried that the Mac OS would decline even further from its 8 percent market share. Right and right, unfortunately: Apple shut down all compatible efforts-and, although the company is profitable at this point, its market share is between 4 percent and 5 percent.
That same month, I derided Ted "hypertext" Nelson for asserting that UNIX was "easier and better than the Macintosh" and questioned the extent to which enhanced CDs (audio CDs with added multimedia content) would actually take over the marketplace by the end of 1996 (as its proponents claimed). The back-page essay had a little fun with the claim (from an Imaging Magazine reviewer) that Corex's CardScan "is so good there isn't a person in the world that shouldn't have a copy of the software on their computer." Remember CardScan? It is (or was) a Windows program to scan in business cards and build a contacts database: just precisely what such "persons in the world" as typical Somalians, Indonesians, or home PC users need to own. I continue to have fun with overenthusiastic reviews and press releases, but I don't believe I've seen quite such a universal claim since then-unless you count Michael Hart's "three billion computers in use."
November 1995: a brief reminiscence for OSI, Open Systems Interconnection, the theoretically superior telecommunications protocol set that was completely swept away by the "temporary measure" of the Internet's TCP/IP. Looking five years forward, I suggested that NREN and NII would be candidates for a "whatever happened to" file for 2000. That wasn't a difficult prediction. (I don't make difficult predictions.)
Come December, I was doubting the worth of Video CD, after reading a CD-ROM Professional article by a British writer who claimed that "Video CD will replace the audio CD player" and "ignite an explosion of demand for CD-ROM which will make nonsense of all existing CD-ROM sales forecasts." Video CD, which used MPEG-1 compression at 150:1 compression (or higher), never made a splash in the United States, for good reason: it wasn't very good. I closed the year by grumping about the interesting CD-ROMs that were being bundled with newsstand copies of computer magazines, but only the newsstand copies. That still happens, but today the bundled CD-ROMs are typically AOL CDs with some paltry amount of added content, so it's not worth worrying about.
PC Values: September 2000
A typical 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 company Web sites as of September 1, 2000. Only the budget "other" PC represented better value than a comparably priced top-vendor unit.
Top, Budget: Gateway Essential 633c: Celeron-633, 15GB HD. Minuses: 64MB SDRAM, 14" display with no dedicated display RAM. Extras: MS Works Suite 2000, Boston Acoustics speakers, Canon printer. $999, VR 13.14 (2% since 6/2000, +28% since 3/2000).
Top, Midrange: Dell Dimension XPS B866: Pentium III-866, 30GB HD. Pluses: 32MB display RAM, DVD-ROM. Extras: MS Works Suite 2000, Harmon Kardon surround sound speakers with subwoofer. $1,849, VR 11.81 (+7% since 6/2000, +26% since 3/2000).
Top, Power: Gateway Select 1100: Athlon-1100, 45GB HD. Pluses: 18" display with 64MB display RAM, DVD-ROM. Extras: MS Works Suite 2000, Boston Acoustics speakers with subwoofer, home networking. $2,499, VR 11.72 (+3% since 6/2000, +32% since 3/2000).
Other, Budget: Quantex SM800t: Pentium III-800, 30GB HD. Pluses: 32 MB display RAM, DVD-ROM. Extras: WordPerfect Office, Zip drive, Altec Lansing speakers. $1,499, VR 14.56 (+16% since 6/2000, +35% since 3/2000).
Press Watch I: Articles Worth Reading
Matus, J. (2000), "Sleepless in Silicon Valley," The Industry Standard, Vol. 3 No. 22, pp. 132-3,and"The state of startup," The Industry Standard, Vol. 3 No. 22, pp. 182-280.
It makes sense to consider these two pieces together. If you've been fretting too much about the dot.com millionaires and failing to get a piece of that action, these articles might help you sleep a little better. Jordan Matus' article specifically deals with sleep or lack thereof. Too many venture capitalists and startup employees are working too many hours. In the long run, that's literally a killing pace-and in the short run, there's good reason to believe that people don't function nearly as well as they think they do.
Peter Troob caught an extreme case: an investment banker walking face first into a wall because he'd fallen asleep while walking. One programmer, late one night in a two-day run, erased his company's Web server, including the OS-and says "I know at least five other people who've done the same thing." According to a former Boo.com employee, one database administrator, working 17-hour days for more than a month, erased the site's entire product database in a tired moment. Executives of startup companies seem to brag about how many nights they've gone without sleep and the sheer joy of putting in 36 to 40-hour weekends. Cornell's James Maas (a sleep researcher) has this advice for workers who feel that they must put in such ridiculous workweeks: "Make sure you finish all your projects now because you're not going to be alive very long."
That's noteworthy at the individual level; since I live in the heart of Silicon Valley, I just pray that those workers coming off five-day sleepless runs aren't driving behind or alongside me! A more general-and remarkably interesting-picture emerges from the 98-page section on Internet startups in early 2000. Of course that page count is inflated by ads, but I count 47 pages of text and pictures: by any standards, this is a major piece. The special report consists of ten smaller articles and is largely based on a survey of 408 founders of legally registered Internet companies that had not yet gone public. I can't possibly summarize everything here; the section is well written and may be a landmark study of the field. (One finding: the average respondent works 64.4 hours per week; 37 percent work 70 hours or more.)
Most startups are tiny operations: 36 percent have fewer than five employees, 46 percent have raised less than half a million dollars, and 47 percent had less than $100,000 in 1999 revenues (including 21 percent with no revenues at all). A broader picture of "entrepreneurs with a big idea" covering 1994 through March 2000 is particularly revealing. Of 2.5 million big ideas, one in five (half a million) became a business plan; between 5,000 and 15,000 found funding other than venture capital; 3,000 to 5,000 received venture capital; and 600 were either acquired or went public. The odds of "making it big" were one in 833-noting that "making it big" doesn't mean that the company will be profitable or even survive, only that the founders may be able to cash out for some real money.
The section is far from downbeat, but mixes real stories with background to provide a healthy dose of reality. One big problem is that thousands of entrepreneurs, like David Piwko of Relaxrelax.com, "would like to compare our model to Amazon." Thus we get 20 startups in a given market each knowing it will make it big-if it just gets 20 percent of the market (85 percent of which is likely to stick with traditional channels). Thus we get Internet-based used book businesses projecting annual revenues of $30 billion, even though the entire new book market is around $25 billion.
And, of course, thus we get the press and some people forgetting that there's more to the world and more to life than business-and, for that matter, that .com isn't the only top-level domain on the Web. But let me stress that The Industry Standard is one Internet-oriented magazine that does not ignore the balance; that makes this section all the more worthwhile.
Zeldman, J. (2000), "Reconcilable differences," Macworld, September, pp. 70-4.
If you're building Web sites on the Mac, read this article. It offers a worthwhile set of tips for avoiding "Mac-centric" Web sites-sites that look great on the Mac but don't work right on Windows machines.
Thompson, M. J. (2000) and others, "Trading on ratings," Industry Standard, Vol. 3 No. 27, pp. 172-93.
What's a Web site worth? That question may not be relevant for a library's Web page or for other sites that provide access to life beyond the Web. But for pure Web sites-the stuff of dot.coms-worth tends to be measured by traffic figures. That's especially true when a site's only source of revenue is advertising: if more people come to your site, you can charge more for ads.
Media Metrix, Nielsen NetRatings, and a few others make it their business to estimate the popularity of other Web sites. These ratings-based on panels of Web users who agree to run tracing software-can make huge differences in a company's stock price and revenue picture. The problem is that the numbers may be grossly inaccurate.
This exhaustive article discusses the way sites are ranked, some of the problems, and the sheer level of inaccuracy: one audit showed that ratings-firm numbers could be anywhere from 85 percent to 300 percent of actual pageviews. On average, ratings overestimated actual usage by 37 percent as compared to audited server records. The ratings firms challenge the audits, naturally. The story also discusses how site managers can fine-tune the numbers to make their sites look good (narrowing demographic claims, for example).
While this report may not have a direct impact on your library or firm, it's still worth reading. Traffic ratings may help determine which sites survive and how they operate; that affects what you can get over the Web.
The Wired and Wireless Web
A s of June 2000, Michael Hart claims that there are three billion computers in use, but only a tenth of them have Internet access. As with Hart's earlier claims, this means that 90 percent of all computers use unknown operating systems (or no operating systems at all), but never mind that. What about numbers from people operating in our universe?
Two graphs and sidebars in the June 6, 2000 PC Magazine claim to give today's numbers and project where we'll be in a few years. In one case, it might be worth looking at the claim for 2004, but that may be too far in the future. That case is IDC's projection for wired Internet connections versus wireless connections. IDC seems to show about 250 million subscribers (almost all of them wired) at the end of 1999, rising to around 400 million wireless subscriptions and 450-500 million wired by the end of next year-and then to some 1.4 billion wireless subscriptions in 2004, as opposed to a mere 750 million wired subscriptions. I am not, incidentally, claiming that these projections are impossible; it's hard to say how big the market will be for browsing the Web in cell-phone-size chunks.
The other chart shows the top online nations at the end of 1999, out of 259 million Internet subscriptions worldwide. Yes, some other countries may seem more wired, but nearly 111 million of those Internet subscriptions are in the USA, with Japan second at 18 million and the UK and Canada coming in between 13 and 14 million. (Germany is the only other nation with eight-figure subscriptions at roughly 12 million subscribers.)
The forecast here, from Computer Industry Almanac, is that there will be 490 million subscriptions by the end of 2002-less than half the total projected by IDC, but still almost double the current total. This is a doubling in three years, not the doubling every six months that we saw a few years ago. That should surprise nobody-except people who claim there are already billions and billions of computers out there.
It's taken a while for me to realize that I was wrong to doubt the market analysts. When they said that more non-PC devices would connect to the Web than PCs within a few years, I forgot the power of language. IBM and others are working on voice-response Web sites that can be reached using ordinary phones-and there are more phones than PCs. So much for that competition. Once you control the language, you control the outcome. If you consider any transaction that at some point pulls information from an Internet-connected site to be a Web connection, then the analysts are certainly right.
Moving back from that extreme, we have the growing and peculiar phenomenon of Web cell phones. The first sentence of an enthusiastic article in Computer Shopper for July 2000 hits the right clichés: "As the post-PC era dawns, one little device has become the undisputed darling of the digerati: the Web-enabled cell phone." You get "the anytime, anywhere data and communications that itinerant infonauts have long dreamed of." I dream of tropical cruises; infonauts dream of full-time e-mail. A little later, we learn that "Net-enabled cell phones are undoubtedly the gotta-have gadget of the year" (you already have your MP3 player, e-book reader, and DVD drive, right?), even though "the limitations can be as notable as the innovations."
Strike the inevitability pose: "In the near future using digital phones to access the Net will become increasingly compelling as our personal and business lives become enmeshed with content, sites, and services on the Internet." If you're not connected, you're nowhere. And it's happening right now, if you believe Cap Gemini America. They predict that "the number of business people using cell phones for wireless data will soar from 3 percent of current wired users to 78 percent over the next 12 months." Pay attention to that projection: by July 2001, 78 percent of everyone using the Internet for business purposes will be using Web-enabled cell phones. I regard that projection as sheer lunacy, but what do I know?
I do know this. Cell phones have been getting steadily smaller and lighter, down to the two-ounce marvels that seem most common today. But "smaller and lighter" doesn't work when you want to display Web data, even in little chunks. The phones described in this article weigh 4 to 6 ounces, with Qualcomm's pdQ weighing in at 10 ounces. Want to hold that up to your face for very long? These are also much larger cell phones than current sleek models-that screen has to go somewhere.
How much of the Web do you get? On the Qualcomm, almost a quarter screen: 12 lines with 36 characters per line. That's because the Qualcomm is really a modified Palm III. Otherwise, plan on three to five lines of 15 to 17 characters each: in other words, nine to 15 words per screen. The Sprint PCS NP1000 does a little better, with nine 17-character lines.
But you can do your e-mail-sort of. You'll be reading it in tiny chunks, and answering will be a true ordeal, since these units have phone keypads. Tap the "7" three times for an "R" or four times for an "S." (Software may prompt common words, but software can only do so much.)
We hear that you'll soon do even more with these little gems. When third-generation wireless technology is in place (figure 2003 to 2005 in the USA), "users will be able to download MP3, conduct videoconferencing, and even watch TV." On these little screens using packet switching, because it would be uncool to use a cheap battery-operated portable TV or get music from a radio. Your sleek phone is now a bulky monster with short battery life, but you're connected.
Here and there throughout the article you get hints of what this is really all about. These phones are ridiculous for reading much more than headlines, a pretty poor way to handle e-mail, and completely useless for the majority of Web sites-but they're just fine for buying. The only photo in the body of the article makes that clear: it shows the special wireless version of Amazon.com and has the caption: "Buy the book: Making purchases can be surprisingly simple." Up to now, it's been so difficult to spend money when you're out on the town; thank heavens cell phones can save us from all that.
Internet Appliances: Another View
Two full-page ads in the June 5, 2000 Industry Standard say a lot about the benefits of Internet appliances-but not necessarily for consumers. Both ads are from IAN, the Internet Appliance Network, "Helping brands own the Web." The first one begins "What if you could see what she sees? What if you could read what she reads?" and goes on to mention selling her "ads that she would stare at for hours and hours." The second ad pushes the device itself, and points out that one of the amazing aspects of an Internet appliance is that "even though he's the one holding it in his hands, you get to feel it too" because it's a "customer relationship tool" for IAN's brand partners.
Doesn't it make you feel warm and fuzzy? After all, if brands don't own the Web, who will?
CD Cards and Shaped CDs
Has anyone handed you a stiff business card that looks like an oddly shaped CD? It probably is a CD-ROM, and you must be an important contact for whoever handed it to you: it probably cost $1.50 to $3. But then, have you purchased a CD with saw teeth around the outer edge, or perhaps one shaped like a valentine?
Welcome to the world of shaped CDs: audio CDs and CD-ROMs cut into special shapes. The CD cards (most of which have two curved sides and two flat sides) may actually be injection molded in that shape; others are cut after production. An excellent review of this specialized area appears in the August 2000 EMedia Magazine: "The Shape-Shifting of CD-ROM" (pp. 26-37). It discusses how this all works, why anyone would want to do it, the capacity and other issues, and so on. I'm inclined to agree with most of those who project a future: CD-ROM business cards (with 50MB data, typically offering a multimedia come-on to get you to a Web site) may do fairly well, but other shaped CD-ROMs are pretty much gimmicks. But then: can't you just put your URL on a cardboard business card? Are there really people smart enough to handle a CD-ROM business card properly but too dumb to key in a URL?
Here's one that I have mixed feelings about. inViso plans to market eShades just about the time you read this, probably for $500 to $600. These look like sunglasses but include microdisplays, supposedly yielding the effect of a "19-inch, 800-by-600-resolution color desktop display" (according to a PC Magazine writeup). They come with a PC Card connection, designed to plug into your notebook computer. From the illustration, they may also have built-in under-the-ear headphones.
Will these work along with regular glasses? That's not clear. If the software works so that a notebook's screen is shut down while the glasses are operating, these expensive devices could be winners for use on airplanes or in other public situations: you get a bigger effective screen and plenty of privacy-if you can use your keyboard without seeing it. Of course, they could be great for watching DVD movies on the road even without keyboard use. Or they could be expensive toys.
Broadband Changes Everything
Surely you've heard this refrain (or some variant): as we all move inexorably to full-time high-speed Internet access in every room of our house, we'll do everything on the Internet. That's accompanied by the assertion that everyone's desperate to get high-speed access, despite survey findings that most people can't see paying for it. For that matter, roughly three-quarters of home Web users have no particular interest in broadband access, according to one survey.
At the moment, slightly less than 5 percent of US households with Internet access have broadband access-but those users are fairly well to do, more likely to shop online, and likely to use the Web several times a day. (Those findings may be redundant: why would you pay for broadband access if you didn't plan to use the Web several times a day, and how would you justify it if you weren't fairly well to do. "Fairly" is the key: 21 percent of broadband-connected households have more than $100,000 annual household income. That leaves 79 percent with lower incomes.)
The numbers are fairly clear: 95 percent of those who connect to the Internet from home do so at 53K or slower, and are only on the Internet when they need to be. That might suggest that broadband sites cater to fairly narrow audiences. That will be true for years: the most optimistic estimate is that 18 million households might have broadband access by 2003.
This information comes from a June 19, 2000 article in The Industry Standard, which goes on to note the reasons that some high-profile sites are pushing broadband despite the tiny audience. The article also quotes some third parties who question the point of broadband for these sites, almost all of them business-oriented. One person asks, "Would you end up selling a lot more clothes because people can look at them in 3D?" Another makes the useful point that the Web itself is full of bottlenecks: the only way to assure a true broadband experience is over a closed network. (When packets are taking 120 milliseconds to make one jump in a 15-jump route, the speed of the final connection is fairly irrelevant.)
The article itself is interesting, but what makes it worth looking up is a one-page appendix by Ari Weinberg, trying out ten high-profile broadband sites. Each site was checked using a Pentium II on a 384K DSL line and a G3 Mac on a T1 line, attempting to connect with both Internet Explorer and Netscape Navigator on each platform. How did it go?
SeasonTicket.com sounds great if you're a sports fan, and Ifilm.com includes lots of trailers, film spoofs, and documentaries, although "the small video window is annoying." Other than that? AtomFilms.com's "video window is so small that I found it hard to concentrate," Centerseat.com isn't Mac-compatible or Navigator-compatible and its clips "are not cutting-edge," Entertaindom.com (Time Warner's new site) "was worse than anything I've ever seen on TV," with loads of technical difficulties, and Pixelon.com wasn't worth visiting (and is apparently going under). Pseudo.com crashed the computer; WireBreak.com would download and play clips without warning; NBCi.com "doesn't live up to its name." The general sense, with two exceptions: "So why did I feel like I was wasting my time when I visited some broadband sites?"
Of course, broadband supports would argue that these aren't really broadband sites at all. Until you can get high-quality, full-screen video, these are just experiments. But quality full-screen video may not work over the open Internet at all. DVD-quality streaming video requires an average data rate of 3Mbps, but only if you can support bursts of up to 10Mbps-and that's assuming enough horsepower on the receiving end for MPEG2 decompression while handling that data flow. Impossible? Very little is impossible. But those 18 million households in 2003 won't have nearly that data rate. Meanwhile, enjoy those inch-square video clips.
A two-page "Metrics" piece in The Industry Standard Vol. 3 No. 19 deals with high-speed Net access for home use, whether that access is likely to be cable or DSL, how fast it's coming-and whether the demand is really there. That last issue is one that providers don't want to consider, but the findings here are consistent with those reported by Hal Varian in an earlier Industry Standard. "Many consumers are not willing to pay for [faster Net connections]. Jupiter found that 52 percent of surfers are unwilling to pay more for high-speed access than they pay for their current ISP."
Jupiter Communications, the market research firm behind that finding, surveyed Net users on their plans to adopt broadband connections. Roughly three-quarters don't plan to switch. But, of course, the forecasts all show incredibly fast rises in broadband adoption. Three forecast charts (from three different research firms) differ only in how fast the rise will be and how cable will relate to DSL. All three forecasts go through 2003, and all are for household use. Consider the claims, noting that it's agreed that roughly 300,000 households had DSL access and 1.1 to 1.4 million had cable modem access at the end of 1999:
IDC expects 9.2 million DSL households and 9.0 million cable modems.
Insight Research says 7.8 million DSL, 6.3 million cable.
Yankee Group shows a mere 5.0 million DSL and 7.6 million cable.
All three scenarios basically assert that once the bandwidth is available, it will be used and paid for-and at fairly high rates. Insight's projections for revenues in 2003 are $4.9 billion for DSL, $7.9 billion for cable. It doesn't take a computer to figure out that this requires that DSL users pay an average of $628 a year ($52 a month, fairly typical for medium-speed ADSL), while cable modem users pay an average of $1,254 a year: $104 a month, a startling increase from today's $35-$60.
Press Watch II: Commentary
"The CD/DVD ROM sales index," EMedia, Vol. 13 No. 7, p. 16.
This quarter-page chart is particularly worth noting as a reality check on the death of CD-ROM. A table and two bars show the worldwide installed base of drives at the end of 1998 and 1999, as estimated by International Data Corporation.
For DVD fanciers, the good news is that the installed base of DVD-ROM drives went from 6.8 million to 22.9 million: an increase of 16 million, more than tripling the number of DVD-ROM drives.
But by now DVD-ROM drives should be starting to displace CD-ROM drives, and that's not the picture. Very fast CD-ROM drives (greater than 32x top speed) went from 3.9 million to 48.9 million; typical contemporary drives (20 to 32x) went from 113.9 million to 174 million. The total installed base for CD-ROM drives increased from 245 million to 322 million: almost 80 million more CD-ROM drives. (If these numbers don't make sense, IDC believes that a lot of PCs were discarded during the year or had CDs upgraded: the installed base of 4x CD-ROM supposedly declined from 37.2 to 11.2 million in one year, with even slower CD-ROMs going down from 5 to 3 million.)
As long as six CD-ROM drives are being sold for each DVD-ROM drive, or even with a ratio of three to one, we're not likely to see many DVD-ROM titles.
Schworm, P. (2000), "Your mother should know," EMedia, Vol. 17 No. 7, pp. 52-7.
Does your library have filters on every Internet terminal? If you're in a public library, I'm certain the question has come up. This article discusses a different kind of filtering, one demanded by the guardians of "traditional values" but apparently not very interesting to anybody else. To wit, DVD-Video players can support parental lockout or even provide different versions of the same disc-but very few discs support the options and most DVD owners either don't know or don't care about them.
This should come as no real surprise. Every new TV sold in the USA today includes a V-chip; how many people do you know of who activate that parental control? For TVs, the V-chip locks out programs that don't pass muster; for DVD, filtering can be subtler. It's possible to substitute milder language or scenes, called up automatically when the DVD controls are set for less mature audiences: the term is "multi-rated DVD."
But that's neither cheap nor easy to do. Those alternative versions have to be written and filmed, and branching DVDs are more difficult to prepare. According to one industry expert, "In some respects, it might be easier to put two separate movies on the disc." And filmmakers aren't thrilled at the prospect: removing sensitive content diminishes the final product.
The protectors of our children's innocence see it differently, of course. One says, "The schools, libraries, and prisons all want to be able to choose movie versions that are suitable for or are wanted by the audience." Of course, unless your library actually has a fleet of DVD players for in-house viewing, a multi-rated DVD does not protect you from outraged parents and censors: you can't control the way it's used. Another claims that multirated versions will "broaden the base of potential sales immeasurably"-and it's hard to argue with the notion that you can't measure the effects. This second expert even suggests that a recent leveling-off of player sales is evidence that parental controls need to be implemented more widely.
I wasn't aware of a leveling-off of sales, except to the extent that last year's extraordinary percentage increases were unsustainable. By all accounts, DVD players are selling quite well. But those who make censoring hardware have no doubt: "once consumers understand what's out there, they'll demand it." Just like the use of the V chip.
Michaels, P. (2000), "Project X," Macworld, September, pp. 28-9.
The brief article discusses Mac's forthcoming OS X and what it will mean for existing applications. The second page offers a timetable for the effort to provide Macs with a modern operating system (that is, one with preemptive multitasking, protected memory, and intelligent memory allocation).
On its own, the timetable is amusing and a bit horrifying. The first attempt at a contemporary OS came in April 1991. Other versions were announced for implementation in 1995 (Copland), then 1996 (still Copland), then 1997. Replacing Copland, Rhapsody was due in late 1997. In 1998, Apple changed the name to OS X-and the current release date is expected to be early 2001. That's a full decade after original announcements-and six years after Microsoft began shipping Windows 95, which includes the key elements of a modern OS (despite its DOS roots).
But reading this timetable doesn't suggest that Apple has been woefully deficient compared to the Evil Empire. Instead, the only mention of Microsoft is this odd little item: "January 1995. Mac enthusiasts gloat. Microsoft delays Windows 95, and gods of karma stroke their chins and take note." That's it. In fact, the delay in Windows 95 was a matter of months, not years: it did, in fact, ship during 1995. Since then, Microsoft has shipped increasingly user-friendly versions of Windows NT (now Windows 2000), a modern OS right down to the kernel-and, to be sure, one major release and three or more minor upgrades to the consumer Windows. There's a big difference between being three or four months late and ten years late.
A Note about FamilyPC
FamilyPC has been around for more than seven years now. Originally published as a joint project of Disney and Ziff-Davis, it's been a pure ZD magazine for some time. It's also gone downhill, at least in my opinion. I see two specific problems: articles that read like Web pages (short and lightweight), and a high percentage of the magazine that's little more than annotated pointers to Web sites. Is that really what we buy magazines for? Isn't there more to say about families and personal computing?
Take the September 2000 issue. I count 72 pages of editorial copy in the 140-page issue, defining that term loosely enough to include several pages of back-to-school fashions and letters to the editor. Of those 72 pages, 12 seem to be just Web sites on a particular topic, with one or two introductory paragraphs-and another 12 or more are deeper reviews of Web sites or notes on how to use them.
Then again, you have to wonder about a list of "ten most popular search engines" that includes Yahoo, AOL, MSN, Tripod, and Xoom, but doesn't include Northern Lights or Google. Since when are AOL, MSN, and Tripod search engines?
Blackford, J. (2000), "Print and Web: working together," Computer Shopper, Vol. 20 No. 9, p. 84.
Based on the first two-thirds of this editorial column, I would put it in the other Press Watch section: it's a sensible discussion of the ways that Internet companies are rediscovering the power of print. That's sad, in a way: one way that the Web should save paper is by eliminating some catalogs and other junk mail-but dot.coms are printing new catalogs.
The problem is in the last couple of paragraphs, where we get the usual "Web as universal medium" nonsense. First, he says that the Web will coexist with other media-but then he says that it will incorporate all of the others. "That's why the Web is rediscovering print, soon to be the only non-wired media platform." If "non-wired" means "doesn't require electricity to use," OK. But I think Blackford is saying that broadcast TV, CDs, DVDs, and all the rest are toast: all media except magazines, newspapers, catalogs (and books, which he doesn't mention) will be on the Web. I don't buy that. Hmm: the absence of books as a medium may be telling-after all, they don't carry advertising, and Computer Shopper is 100 percent about buying stuff.
Howard, B. (2000), "The workstation difference," PC Magazine, Vol. 19 No. 15, pp. 167-85.
What's the difference between a high-end desktop PC and a workstation? I'm not sure that this review of six workstation-class PCs answers the question, but one assertion is that it's not the hardware at all. Instead, it's certification from the manufacturer that popular workstation applications will run properly on the system and special technical support for workstation owners. By those measures, only half of these units qualify (from Compaq, Dell, and IBM); Hewlett-Packard, Gateway, and Micron don't certify applications.
If you have specific workstation needs, Dell's $4,108 Precision Workstation 420 MiniTower may be a good choice (it's the sole Editors' Choice). Do note that, unlike most PC reviews, that price does not include a display: figure another $1,000 or more for the 21" display that makes sense with a workstation-class system. For that matter, if you're serious about workstation-based graphics, calculate another $700 to $3,200 for a high-end 3D graphics card: the systems tested came with 2D graphics.
O'Brien, B. (2000), "Computing at giga speed," Computer Shopper, Vol. 20 No. 9, pp. 156-64.
This roundup includes an odd lot of five desktop PCs running at 1GHz (1,000MHz): two expensive Pentium-III systems from Dell and Tiny, one overpriced Athlon from Compaq, and two $2,599 Athlon systems from CyberMax and Systemax. All of the systems include DVD and CD-RW drives, nVideo GeForce graphics chips with at least 32MB RAM, 128MB system RAM, 18"-viewable displays, Sound Blaster Live Value audio cards, name-brand three-piece or five-piece speaker systems, and big hard disks (all 40GB except the Systemax's 30GB, and all from Maxtor).
The editors don't select a Best Buy, but the only four-star rating goes to Dell's $3,769 Dimension XPS B1000r. All the others earn three stars. As always, you pay a lot for that last increment of performance: if a mere 800-933MHz system will meet your needs, you can save a few hundred dollars.
Somers, A. (2000), "Crash course in computers," FamilyPC, Vol. 7 No. 9, pp. 114-18.
That seems like an unhappy title for a review of family-oriented Windows 98 PCs, but let it be. The review criteria included a $2,000 price limit, but it's not clear what other criteria were used-or why the particular companies and models were chosen. (For example, Gateway isn't represented although it's the largest seller of home PCs-but Acer and IBM, neither of which has much presence in home PCs, both appear.)
Read the reviews carefully if you're interested. Tiny's $1,799 InternetWriter 733 gets the highest score; units from Dell, Apple, and Compaq also earn Recommended scores.
Labriola, D. (2000), "Now playing: digital home movies," Computer Shopper, Vol. 20 No. 7, pp. 168-75.
Ready for digital video? These four cameras cost $1,399 to $1,999 and record using the tiny Mini DV format. The article notes "high-resolution video" but two of these cameras capture less than half a mega-pixel-but then, the best resolution you can display on regular TV is 720 by 480. Digital video should survive multigeneration editing with fewer flaws than analog video, but video editing is no walk in the park. The Best Buy in this group is Sony's $1,999 DCR-PC100; it has the best resolution of the bunch, offers high-quality Zeiss optics, and combines a good feature set with the lightest camera in the group.
O'Brien, B. (2000), "Versatile video cameras for your PC desktop," Computer Shopper, Vol. 20 No. 9, p. 115.
If you want to be a Web exhibitionist, do some videoconferencing, or offer e-reference with visuals, you need a desktop (or monitor-top) camera. This mini-roundup is a little odd: two of the cameras are fairly typical (albeit one step up from the golf-ball cameras), but the third is an entirely different animal. Highest-rated is the $129 IBM/Xirlink PC Camera Pro Max, a boxy device that offers decent quality and a hefty software bundle. Its primary problem (other than being a little ugly) is that it only uses video compression at its lowest (176 x 144) resolution. Capture 19 seconds of 352 x 240 ("half-screen") video and you've used 70MB disk space. The identically priced Intel PC Camera Pro Pack offers decent images but seems to drop frames.
The third unit may have the same price, but it's substantially different. The X10 Xray Vision consists of a wireless golfball camera that can be stationed up to 150 feet away from the receiver, which then sends a composite-video signal to a PC, a TV, or a VCR. In normal use, it doesn't take live video: it grabs still frames at intervals you choose, anywhere from ten seconds to two minutes. In other words, it's a security or snooping device.
Displays and Graphics
English, D. (2000), "Screen gems," Computer Shopper, Vol. 20 No. 9, pp. 166-71.
This roundup includes six 18"-viewable flat-face CRTs, each costing less than $500. All but one use either Sony's FD Trinitron or Mitsubishi's flat-face Diamondtron, both aperture-grill tubes. The exception, Hitachi's $447 CM771, uses a Hitachi-built ErgoFlat shadow-mask tube, the only "traditional" display in the roundup. It's also the Best Buy, with excellent sharpness and brightness, a slightly lower price than its competitors, and a short-neck tube that takes half an inch off its dimensions. The magazine repeats Hitachi claims that its tube won't require periodic adjustment of convergence settings-which it claims is required for aperture-grill tubes (Hitachi is one of the biggest manufacturers of shadow-mask tubes). I would question Hitachi's expertise in maintaining a class of tubes it doesn't build, and might even question their lack of bias in this regard; I've been using Trinitron tubes for many years (at home and at work), including my current 18"-viewable at home, and I've never had to adjust convergence (or ever heard of anyone needing to do so).
If you prefer the color purity and other aspects of aperture-grill tubes (as I do), and aren't troubled by the tensioning wires, three units tie Hitachi's four-star rating. The $460 CTX PR960F (Trinitron-based) handles most menu settings from Windows and includes four powered USB ports. Mag Innovision's $499 810FD (also Trinitron-based) offered the sharpest image of Trinitron-based units and has an easy-to-use control system. Finally, Samsung's $449 SyncMaster 900NF (Diamondtron-based) handles small text exceptionally well, but it's huge.
Leemon, S. (2000), "Protect your personal space," Computer Shopper, Vol. 20 No. 9, pp. 178-80.
If you have PCs with broadband access and permanent IP addresses, you must have firewall software: that's a given in today's world. For some smaller libraries and for your home computer (if you're getting DSL or cable Internet), the personal firewall software reviewed here may be all you need. The Best Buy (here as in most reviews I've seen) is Norton Personal Firewall ($50, plus $3.95 per year for updates after the first year): it offers the most flexible firewall protection and a range of extras such as privacy protection. You can frequently save some money by getting Norton Personal Firewall bundled with Norton SystemWorks.
If $50 is too much money or you just don't like Symantec, two products tied for second place. BlackICE Defender ($40 plus $20 per year after the first year) is a traditional favorite among personal firewall products but tends to generate phantom attack notifications. ZoneAlarm (www.zonelabs.com) is free for personal use, $20 for business use; it's not as full-featured as some others and there's no telephone tech support, but the price is right and it works well.
If you're thinking of doing without a firewall while using an always-on, permanent-address, high-speed Internet connection, think again.
Grotta, S. W. (2000), "Scanners for e-business," PC Magazine, Vol. 19 No. 16, pp. 164-74.
What makes a scanner particularly suitable for "e-business" (or Internet use in general)? Presumably, one-touch convenience, the possibility of scanning directly into e-mail, and the ability to automate repetitive operations for building Web sites. In practice, the headline is largely hype: this is a roundup of nine reasonably priced flatbed scanners, although the judging did include a "Web jury" considering photos scanned at 72dpi (native resolution for most PC displays) and posted on the Web, as well as an expert jury scrutinizing 300dpi images.
Epson's $200 Perfection 1200U placed first with both groups of experts and was the fastest scanner throughout. It doesn't have lots of programmable buttons for future functionality, but it seems to be the best general-purpose scanner. The one four-dot rating went to Canon's $200 CanoScan N1220U.
Coda: Leaving the Corner
If you have read the December 2000 EContent, you may recognize part of the title above and guess what's coming-but it's a little different this time. This is the 59th set of informal essays I've written for Library Hi Tech News. It is also the last.
I've written "Trailing Edge Notes" and "Crawford's Corner" for this long because it's fun, and because there are clear indications that some people appreciate what I've done here. This isn't scholarly writing. These perspectives rarely plum great philosophical depths or reach refined oratorical heights. I've never claimed to be more than a hack writer; I think the record bears out that estimation.
I can look back at the last six years (minus January 1995) with considerable pride (and occasional embarrassment). Yes, I played around with typefaces too much in the early years, and maybe MCB University Press did me a favor by eliminating typeface flexibility. Sure, I unintentionally commented on the same product twice over the span of a few months. Certainly, some of the essays are annoyingly personal. And, to paraphrase Tom Lehrer, if you dislike "Crawford's Corner," you will most certainly not enjoy "Crawford At Large."
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