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     By Bob and Joy Schwabach
                                                                        

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March 2001, Week 4 -- How "New" Do You Want to Go?

   Apple has released a new operating system, OS X (stands for OS "ten"). Microsoft came out with Windows ME a few months back and will have another new operating system, Windows "XP" sometime later this year.

   Through all of this I have maintained a studied silence. Some people probably think I've fallen asleep at the keyboard with my elbow resting on the pause key. No, there's more to it than that. I have seen too many new operating systems. And they all boil down to this: Do you want to get your work done?

 

   Anyone who works with computers knows very well that it takes weeks and sometimes months to get a system working the way you want it to work. And yet, every new operating system I've seen in the past 20 years has had numerous bugs to be worked out and has actually slowed down the computers they were written for. This last characteristic seems amazing at first glance, but in fact new operating systems invariably add huge amounts of what's called "overhead." Overhead is the increase in the amount of operations that are done automatically by the system instead of by you, the user. This slows em down, as they say.

  

   New systems often won't run some of the software that ran perfectly well under the old system. Sometimes you lose features: Apple's new OS X, for example, doesn't play DVD disks or write to CDs.

   All of this has lead to my personal golden rule of operating systems: "Never buy anything with a low serial number." In other words, do you want to play with a new operating system or do you want to get your work done?

 

   The answer to this last question has been made clear by the recent sharp slowdown in business purchases of computer hardware and software. After years of "teching up," there has come a realization that the stuff is finally working well and helping run the business; why mess around?

 

  The answer to that last question is the constant pressure on high tech companies to, as they say, "move it out the door." There is a great rush to release new product as soon as possible, before somebody else releases theirs and makes yours obsolete. This kind of pressure is absent in, say, a broom manufacturing company, or a distributor of paper plates and napkins. All of which leads to releasing new operating systems, and sometimes other programs, with significant problems. To echo a comment of actress Lily Tomlin years ago: "No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up."

 

   So do you want to get your work done? Then let somebody else be an operating system pioneer.

 

"Zippy" pictures

 

 

   Iomega has placed a nice photo album program on a Zip disk that works with either the 100 or 250 MB(megabyte) Zip drives. These are the most popular external storage drives in the world and there are literally millions of them.

   The album program is called "LifeWorks Photo Album" and it runs off the Zip disk itself; you never have to install it on the computer. That way you can carry photos and program on a single disk. You can collect photos, print them as single shots or pages of so-called thumbnails, drag and drop pictures into slide shows, and e-mail pictures, all directly from the LifeWorks disk itself. If you're worried about filling up the disk (which has about 80 megabytes free) there's no problem, you can transfer the program to a new Zip disk and keep doing this indefinitely.

 

   LifeWorks Photo Album has a list price of $30 when purchased from Iomega at www.iomegadirect.com and comes with an extra blank Zip disk. Quicken's best-selling "TurboTax" is also available on a Zip disk.

 

The numbers report

   According to market research by eMarketer www.emarketer.com, Latin America is the fastest growing computer and Internet market. Just under ten million people use the Internet regularly now, and interestingly enough, half of those are under age 24. The number of users is projected to quadruple over the next three years, and the dollar value of commercial transactions is projected to multiply 20-fold to about $70 billion.

Internuts

  

-- www.lawyersweeklyusa.com  Articles about recent significant cases and new federal regulations. They have interesting lists, like the top 10 verdicts of 2000, but they're not always up to date on reversals. Aimed at small law firms and individual practices. Done in newspaper style.

-- www.kidsfreeware.org  A treasure house of free programs, for kids ranging from wee toddlers up to teenagers. What to do on a rainy day? This will keep any child busy for quite a while; they even teach programming. Without exaggeration, there are hundreds of free programs here.

 

 

 

-- www.unmuseum.org A nifty science site for kids and adults alike, with topics like "what killed the dinosaurs," seven wonders of the ancient world, and home experiments like grow your own crystals. There are quite a few science projects outlined here that would be useful to students.

-- www.vrbo.com  The call letters here stand for "vacation rentals by owner." The choices are international, many with pictures, and all have prices. A nice way to dream about your next vacation.

NOTE: The reader can look through four years of columns at the "On Computers" web site: www.oncomp.com. You can e-mail Bob Schwabach at bobschwab@oncomp.com or bobschwab@aol.com.

 

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