- The Washington Times - Monday, March 12, 2001

You've heard it, perhaps, a thousand times, that French phrase, "Plus a change, plus c'est la meme chose." The more things change, the more they stay the same. It was a journalist and novelist, Alphonse Karr, who first put that line into circulation. While Mr. Karr has some streets in France named after him as well as a variety of bamboo, for reasons I couldn't readily discern he, having died in 1890 at age 82, never saw a computer.

I was thinking of Mr. Karr's signature quotation the other day, because in the 519 weeks that I've written this column today's installment is, I believe, number 520, marking 10 years a lot has changed, yet little has.

The first of these columns discussed new laser and inkjet printers from Apple Computer. While Apple no longer makes or sells printers, output devices still capture the attention of a lot of computer users. Both inkjets and lasers have gotten better, far better, over the past decade, and each has dramatically dropped in price.

Even more dramatic is the jump in output quality, particularly with inkjets. The right kind of inkjet device and several from Lexmark, Canon and Epson fit the bill will deliver astonishingly clear and sharp text and graphics. On the laser side, prices have come down to the point where just about everyone can have a laser printer, at least in monochrome.

In the spring of 1991, Microsoft Corp. was in the news. First, the Federal Trade Commission was looking into some of the firm's business practices, a precursor of the eventual Justice Department antitrust suit against the firm, which is now under appeal in Washington. A full decade later the matter hasn't been fully resolved.

Later that year, Microsoft released Windows 3.1, which offered substantial improvements over Windows 3.0. It was about this time that the idea of Windows, or a graphically oriented operating system for PCs, took off in the minds of many users. Microsoft is poised to release "Windows XP" later this year. Code-named "Whistler," the consumer version of Windows XP is touted as being more stable and personable than its predecessors, just as 3.1 blew the doors open for Windows overall.

Then, as now, word processing and business/personal finance remain the top applications on the PC. But now, unlike then, Microsoft truly dominates the productivity applications space Corel's WordPerfect has its strongholds, notably the Department of Justice, HUD and the Library of Congress, but it's way down overall; Lotus' 1-2-3 spreadsheet, however improved of late, is still a distant memory for many.

Intuit's Quicken product line, then as now, dominates in the financial software space, although Microsoft Money is giving it a run for the you-know-what. Perhaps the biggest change in personal finance software over the decade has not been the gussied-up look a Windows-based product can acquire (so long, MS-DOS), but the ways both programs can capitalize on persistent connections to the Internet. Constant updates to the software, downloading financial data and stock quotes, even backing up on line all these features are good and useful ones that the Internet makes possible.

Of course, no reverie of the past 520 weeks would be complete without discussing the Internet and its effects. Ten years ago, it was hot stuff to get on AOL, and maybe stay there a spell. The Dulles-based on-line service hasn't lost its luster, not by a long shot, but its appeal is as much for being a friendly gateway to the Internet as it is being a stand-alone service, I think. The 'Net, for better or for worse, is where it's at now, as well it should be.

As George Gilder (new owner of the American Spectator) and others have correctly noted, it comes down to bandwidth, the amount of data that can flow through a given communications "pipe," which now, with DSL and cable Internet service, can be much larger than 56 kbps. Total convergence isn't here this morning, but the path is clear, I think: the Internet is where we find the basic building blocks of computing now (patches, updates, whole programs) and where we find new communities of like-minded souls. It's where cube dwellers go when something big breaks, either for text or RealAudio. And, it's not going to stop.

Nor, I hope, is this weekly journey. It's been an unmitigated delight to have this task, and I look forward to it every Monday. Thanks, very much, for being there.

• Write to Mark Kellner in care of The Washington Times, Business Desk, 3600 New York Ave. NE, Washington, D.C. 20002; send e-mail to [email protected], or visit the writer's Web page, www.kellner2000.com. Talk back live to Mark every Thursday from 8 to 9 p.m., Eastern time, on www.adrenaline-radio.com.

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