by Donnie Jenkins
When I first got involved with computers, it was a jungle out there. The computer landscape changed drastically almost monthly, lots of competition and different ways of approaching how to do almost anything. Where we now basically have Windows, MacIntosh OS and Linux, with Windows firmly ahead, back then you had Atari, Texas Instruments, Apple, Commodore 64 and Amiga, and on and on. You could take your pick of several different computers and operating systems, some good and some not so good. But it was fun and always interesting. When the computer became standardized and centered around Microsoft Windows, we gained standards and compatibility and lost the original energy and excitement surrounding computers. They became predictable, mundane, somewhat boring. The World Wide Web re-energized the situation somewhat, but Windows still ruled pretty much, and with that came constant threats from viruses, Trojan Horses, etc. Same ole same ole.
Today things are changing. There are several new developments in the works that are going to have a major impact on computers and how we use them. I'd like to share just a few of them with you:
*The Next DVD*...
By the end of the year or early next year, we should see the introduction of the next generation of DVD for players and computers. There are two different approaches to this new product, neither compatible with the other. They are called Blu-Ray and HD-DVD. They each have signed up several companies who have committed to use their standard in the next generation DVD's. Blu-Ray currently seems to be the better of the two: it has a greater capacity and offers a better upgrade path. But HD-DVD has a following, too, so keep an eye on these two. I'll do a column on this subject again when working models are released. Bottom line - when these babies mature and standardize, you could keep the contents of your entire hard drive on one of them if needed.
*Is that a chip on your shoulder, or are you just glad to see me?*...
This next item is the coolest thing to happen in years. Apple Computer recently announced that the company is switching to Intel chips in the next year or so. Now I know that sounds as exciting as watching paint dry, but here's the deal. The most recent MacIntosh OS, Tiger, is a beast - innovative, beautiful, efficient. Apple has always concentrated on style as well as function; in fact, Microsoft has imitated many of the Mac OS's features for years. But Apple hardware has always been more expensive than computers that run Windows. It's hard to justify buying a Mac when the same money buys you two PC's roughly equal. But now that Apple is switching to Intel, the platform of Windows, it will probably be possible to run Mac's operating system and Windows on the same computer, using what's called a dual boot approach. While Apple says they will not make this easy, there is already a "hack" to make this possible on demo machines. This could open up a realm of uncharted territory, always a good thing.
*Speaking of Windows*...
The next version is due out next year, called Windows Vista. Microsoft has had to back down on including several features in it that they had promised, and it has been delayed several times. Many people are calling it a big yawn, but we'll have to get a look at it when it's finally ready to be released. I always wait several months to upgrade when a new OS appears anyway, and XP works so well that most of us won't need to upgrade for some time. In fact there are a great many folks still using Windows 98 and doing quite well.
*Speaking of chips*...
Big Brother is watching - or not. Keep an eye on a technology called RFID which means radio frequency identification chips. These are wireless receivers and transmitters, basically sensors, that communicate with a host computer.. RFID enables data tracking to the extreme. It's very possible that the National ID Card reviewed in The People News a couple of months back could include an RFID chip for scanning purposes. The act that mandated this ID allows "machine readable technology" to be used in it, and RFID fits that description. There are already several lobbies against this chip, and everyone has a strong opinion on it. While most RFID systems are short range, there is no reason that long range scanning won't be possible soon: in fact there is a technology called Wi-Max for wireless use that is long range now.
The Apple Ipod is still the most popular portable music player around, although there are some really good alternatives. In case you don't know, these players allow you to transfer downloaded audio files from your computer to the player and take your audio anywhere you go. The newest wrinkle in all of this is RSS (Really Simple Syndication) which lets you subscribe to online content, now including audio and sometimes video. Audio content is called Podcasting, named after the Ipod, although not just available for it. Basically you just tell your RSS reader what you want to download and it automatically subscribes to the content and gets it for you. RSS started with Blogging, online journals and articles and migrated to audio and video content, all of which are called feeds. The exciting thing about this is that there are now thousands of free podcasts to choose from, some dull and and some interesting. I have found podcasts ranging from grooming a dog to making poundcake - to computer use. It reminds me of early radio days, when there were no formats, no canned music, just free expression.
Once again, it's a jungle out there-dontcha just love it?
See you next time.
Donnie Jenkins can be contacted at: