Bob and Joy Schwabach
 

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May 2008, Week 1   

dogSUBSCRIBING TO THE FUTURE


Microsoft is planning to go to a subscription service for its software instead of selling boxed packages. Other companies have already gone this route and it’s almost certain to become nearly universal.  

The reasons for going this way are compelling and you don’t have to be head of the math class to figure them out. Selling a program for $200 or $300 or whatever the price, is a one-time deal. Sell the same program as an online subscription for $10 a month, or even less, and you get more money over time and have almost no costs upfront. Since most people use the same software for years on end, the program that used to sell for $200 will end up costing the buyer thousands..  

For the producer it’s all golden. Gone are the manufacturing and packaging costs, warehousing and delivery, plus the salaries and ancillary costs for the people employed in doing those tasks. The money coming in for subscriptions is nearly all profit. There is one other big benefit to the subscription system for software and it is an important one: it ends software piracy. A major producer like Microsoft loses an estimated 15-20 percent of potential sales to pirated copies. Those days will be over; if there are no disks, there are no disks to copy.  

Success is pretty much assured: Game companies have been selling playing time subscriptions for several years. The success of virtual worlds like “Second Life” shows that there is subscription gold in other online ventures; and visitors to Facebook can find hundreds of small free applications written just for the fun of it by users.  

If the thought of paying several thousands dollars over the years just to get a few basic programs for office work leaves you a little appalled, fear not: there are lots of good programs that won’t cost you a dime.  

The Database 

After having a word processor, the most important program you can have is a database. There’s one called Blist that is a blast. It is free online and can be used in many written language, including European languages (with all theBlist accent marks), Mandarin Chinese, Kanji and Hindi. And, since it is based on the web, it can be called up from any computer that can go on the Internet.  

To create a new database, sign up on the web site, Blist.com, and click “new.” On the right-hand side of the screen you’ll see a list of possible subject headings. To have a “text” column, drag a text icon onto the blank spreadsheet type screen. Dragging the photo icon onto the work area creates a photo column, and so on. Columns can have any heading you want. You can even have a database within a database. In short, clicking on a subject that is actually a database, opens up the new database. 

Blist has the look of a spreadsheet, with rows and columns for entering data. The intersection of a row and a column is a cell. But unlike a spreadsheet, the cells can contain just about any kind of information. And they contain an infinite amount of it. That’s right: infinite. (Though there’s a going to be a physical limit at some point just in storage.)  

If you have a column of photos, these can be related to the names of companies, people or places. Let your mouse pointer hover over a name, and a thumbnail photo can appear as well, helping to jog your memory. 

You can have columns for web sites and a column of stars. The stars can be used to rank those sites or rank the item in any list. Another column can hold documents. Another can hold links. You can have all related items automatically linked together so that when you call up a name, be it a person, company or subject, everything related to that name will come up in pages. 

A set of “filters” let you search according to your own criteria. If you drag an icon for “ratings,” for example, onto Blist’s so-called selection canvas, and then click on “5 stars,” you’ll get a filtered list of only items that have received your five-star ratings. If you search for restaurants, only five-star restaurants will come up.  

We have not seen anything this elegant in any other kind of program, except perhaps the new word processor, BuzzWord, that just came out from Adobe.  

The Buzz Word 

Word processors are at the top of any “must have” list, and there are plenty to be had for free. A cursory web search on the key words “word processing” buzzwordwill produce about a dozen free rides, including the all encompassing Open Office, which has nearly all the features of Microsoft Office. You’ll find that one at OpenOffice.org. Others include Abiword.com, Google Docs, ThinkFree  and Zoho.  For tons more, you should take a browser trip to TheFreeCountry.com , where the free scenery is great. 

But the best buzz right now is about BuzzWord, a brand new free word processor from Adobe. This is new ground for Adobe and the early results are smooth. Because it’s Adobe, BuzzWord handles photos as easily as words and everything is done with intuitive clicks of the mouse.  

This is an online word processor, and without a doubt the classiest we’ll see in a while. Collaborating on documents is a breeze. You can see at the bottom of your screen who the authors and co-authors are, who's editing, and who's viewing. Everything you create is saved privately on their servers, so there's no danger of losing anything. To start using Buzzword, sign up at buzzword.com. Because of high demand, you may have to wait a day or so before your request is processed. This could be the future of word processing or a total bust. You know what they say about pioneers.  


 


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