- The Washington Times - Monday, December 27, 1999

Dot-com, dot-com, dot-com: There, I've said it, the top computer happenings of the year seem to be related to the ".com" companies and the services they provide. Just look at the weekly magazine that dubbed Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com, its "Person of the Year."
But as 1999 draws to a close, it's worth remembering that there was a bit more than just Web sites and "e"-this and "e"-that floating around. Underneath it all were some important technologies, many of them related to hardware and software.

Bandwidth uber alles

There's no denying that if you can put your data in a fatter pipe, then you are better off searching the Web. In 1999, Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) technology became nearly ubiquitous or at least widely enough available in our jam-packed metropolitan areas to merit your attention.
Cable Internet service courtesy of your local television provider isn't too far behind.
Both services are relatively fast: I can download a megabyte of data in about a minute or so.
Sometimes things move very quickly, sometimes not as fast. That's because the cable modem is essentially on a "party line" shared by many users. The more users, the slower the speed. There are ways to work around that, however, and my own cable provider has been pretty good about monitoring growth so that more circuits can be added when needed.
But the bottom line is a simple one: Faster and more powerful Internet access is increasingly important, and increasingly available. If you don't have such service at home, you might want to consider its advantages in the New Year.

Processor power: The final frontier?

I'm writing this column on a Compaq Presario computer with a 700-MHz AMD Athlon processor. It's fast, and while my words don't hit the screen any faster, graphics do, and other computations move more quickly.
The best is yet to come, however.
In a move that puts serious pressure on its main rival, Intel has started shipping its 750-MHz and 800-MHz Pentium III chips. These chips were not expected until next year. Intel and AMD have been slugging it out since August, leapfrogging each other in the race toward the 1-GHz chip.
Intel will be "much more aggressive in the future," a company spokesman said. Intel reportedly is going to introduce a 1-GHz processor in early February; AMD may follow. Newer technologies may push the speed envelope way beyond that in years to come.
Add to this the expansion in the amount of RAM available, and how reasonably priced that memory is, and you end up with the potential for all sorts of new machines for all sorts of needs, and at a wide range of prices.
The "Internet appliance" could become a reality, as could many other kinds of computers.
These advances may seem designed more to impact your bank account than your daily life, but that's going to change quickly enough. The coming months and next few years will bring all sorts of wonderful changes, thanks to the boost in processor power.

Free software for all

It sounds like a proto-revolutionary cry, but it really isn't. You can go out today and get an operating system, applications and even a game or two for a computer, and not spend a penny on software. Yes, it will cost you time and require an Internet connection, but it is becoming a reality, thanks to a Finnish programmer named Linus Torvalds, who created Linux, and a growing band of followers.
That represents more than just a challenge to Microsoft and the other leading software players. It means an opportunity for creativity, change and even wealth, as the recent run-up of Linux-related stocks reveals.
But beyond finances, the arrival of Linux on the desktop could spark a revolution in computing whose end is not yet visible, much the way many of us could not see the ultimate impact of a little company called Microsoft and an operating system called MS-DOS, back in the days when CP/M and the Tandy TRS-80 roamed the land.
Next week: the best hardware of 1999.
c Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; or e-mail [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page at (www.markkellner.com).

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