Mon, 26 Dec 1994

What's new out there in the PC world?

By Zatni Arbi

JAKARTA (JP): The year of 1994 is ending, having brought us a great number of dizzying technological advancements in the area of computers and communications. Progress and new applications of the technology kept MIS managers busy all year long, and new developments in the industry as a whole kept analysts excited.

The consolidation trend characterized by mergers between competing superpowers in the industry is still going on. After the big mergers between WordPerfect and Novell, Aldus and Adobe, Symantec and Central Point Software, now we have another merger between the two competing giants in optical character recognition (OCR) programs, Caere and Calera Recognition. Caere is widely known for its WordScan, while Calera is famous for its OmniPage lines of products. Both of these top-notched OCR programs are considered among the best in the industry. As is the case with the Adobe-Aldus merger, we may have to wait some time before we see the resulting product. We tend to get worried by mergers like this one, as less competition generally means bad news to users.

Other big trends in the industry in 1994 include the growth of videoconferencing, the ultimate marriage between PCs and telephony, faster 486, Pentium, and PowerPC chips, faster graphics board that boast 128 bit operation, and, of course, continuously declining prices.

Just as the year is closing, IBM has announced that it is not going to use Intel Pentium chips in the machines that it ships because some flaws have been found in the chip. Intel has reacted by announcing its renewed policy of providing replacement Pentium chips free of charge to users who request them. The battle between PowerPC and Pentium aside, the disclosure of the flaw must have caused a blow to Intel. Prospective buyers were reportedly holding back buying Pentium-based PCs after they had heard the news.

This year also failed to see a shipping version of Windows 4.0, or Chicago. In fact, we may have to wait until the second half of next year to see the operating system, which now bears the official name Windows 95. Let's hope it will be a case of true delayed gratification.

In the meantime, here are some new products that you may want to take note of.

Write your CDs

Some time ago we highlighted products that enabled us to write our own CDs. Here's another product from Corel System of Ontario, Canada, that will help us produce your own digital audio, data or mixed mode CDs totally in Windows environment.

With Corel CD Creator, we can store any combination of digital audio and data on a compact disc capable of holding up to 74 minutes of digital audio or 650 MB of data. Unlike other CD writer software, CD Creator does not require a 1 GB hard disk to create a mirror image of the data--as I mentioned in the earlier article. With this program, the required available hard disk space will be only as large as the longest track to be recorded.

The program graphically and textually displays the amount of space required on the CD-ROM disc to record the layout. The status information also displays the amount of hard disk space needed to record the layout. For novices or infrequent users, an integrated 'Disc Wizard' helps create CDs through a series of step-by-step questions and explanations. The suggested retail price is US$ 249.00

Given its noted expertise in SCSI and CD-ROM, it's no surprise to have the first Windows-based CD writer software coming from this vendor. Coupled with the steady decline in the price of CD writer equipment, we can expect to write our own CDs in a year's time.

New NEC monitors

Actually, we have stretched the life of 14" monitor far beyond its time. With the world moving to graphics user interface, such as Windows and OS/2, one should already be buying larger monitors instead of the 14" that usually comes bundled with the PC. One reason people have for still buying a 14" monitor is that larger ones cost too much. It is no longer the case.

Sony introduced its Sony 15sf last September, which you can get for about Rp 1.2 million in Jakarta. NEC, a real big name in display monitors, has also started shipping its 15 inch versions, NEC XE15 and XP15.

These new models feature a 15" flat, square display with .28 mm dot pitch. It can take as high as 120 Hz refresh rate. The recommended resolution is 1024 by 768 at 76 Hz refresh rate. Innovations in these models include on-screen menu, called On Screen Manager (OSM), which allows you to make various adjustments, including color, image, size, position and screen geometry correction. For more demanding users, NEC has the 17" or 21" models as well.

The XP line is more expensive, and it boasts the ACCESS two-way communication between the monitor and the operating system. Both also tout plug and play, which will allow you to control the monitor's operation from Windows 95. Isn't that something?

Naturally, the new models comply with Energy Star and Nutek (European Union's version of energy-saving standards) and MPR II. The predicted U.S. street price of the less expensive XE15 is US$ 575.00. When it becomes available in Jakarta, it will be just a little bit more expensive than Sony 15sf, but, hey, why not spend more on good and power-efficient display monitors instead of a new pair of glasses every six months?

Color laser

Color laser printers is a luxury item enjoyed by those who earn their company tens of millions of rupiah a month. However, as is always the case in computer technology, even the price of color laser printers have nowhere to go but down.

Three models are now the talk of the day: HP Color LaserJet (US$ 7,295 and up), Xerox 4900 (US$ 7,999 and up), and QMS Magicolor (US$ 8,495 and up).

HP Color LaserJet's top printing resolution is 300 DPI, QMS Magicolor's is 600 DPI and Xerox 4900's is 300 by 1200 DPI. At these prices, these printers are definitely not for my desktop yet- -at least for some time. Also, the amount of time it takes to print a full page color printout still makes it impractical for everyday use. But the decline in prices is certainly taking us closer to the day when we no longer communicate in black and white.

In case you wonder what makes these printers so expensive, remember that they come with a lot of RAM--at least 12 MB for Postscript systems. They are all network ready, which means that their engines operate at a speed far above that of my 4 ppm HP LaserJet IIIp. The QMS model also comes with a 80 MB (upgradeable to 120 MB) hard disk. Add to these the fact that there are now four colors of toner (cyan, magenta, yellow and black) instead of one.

New Canvas

Deneba Software may cause the people at Corel System a run for their money. Canvas has joined the club of one-program-does-it-all hitherto dominated by Corel. The newest version of Canvas allows you to create newsletters and flyers, logos and advertising design, free-form drawing and painting, business graphics, flow charts and diagrams, floor plans, architectural and technical drawings, on- screen presentation and slides. You can also retouch images, modify colors or trace scanned images.

The new Canvas also comes with tools to do color separation and create special effects. The best news is that its estimated street price is only US$ 269.00--less than a half of the price of CorelDRAW!.