- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 24, 2002

It has been only about 20 years since the personal computer really began to have an effect on American life: Though "born" in the late 1970s at Apple Computer and matured in 1981 with IBM's first "Personal Computer," it wasn't until 1982 perhaps 1983 that the notion of a desktop computer really began to take hold in corporate America, and then began to catch on for home use.
Someday, 2002 will be recalled as the year in which the personal computer really "grew up" from gangly adolescence to competent adulthood. The PC business, too, went through a rather fast maturation, with the industry experiencing a consolidation among leaders (the Hewlett-Packard/Compaq merger) and Apple's reputed "bad boy" Steve Jobs settling down with a raft of truly innovative products.
On the software side, we saw the rise of Linux for the desktop (finally), the arrival of real "open license" software for the office, and a Tablet PC operating system from Microsoft Corp. that delivers on its promises. Whatever the merits or demerits of the final antitrust settlement with the software sultans in Redmond, Wash., the year ended with the hope for Office 11 from Microsoft sometime next year. Some may not want the upgrade, but at least it's on the horizon.
Even though the year ended with the hollow thud of Comdex what if they gave a trade show and nobody cared? the industry's slump showed some signs of ending. People are buying PCs, albeit lower-priced models in some cases, and consumers are having multiple PCs at home, with a need to network them. For that, 802.11b wireless networking is priced low enough to make its use more possible at home, and the Wi-Fi industry is enhancing the standard's safety features to help keep networks private.
As has been noted in this space for the past few years, some winners and losers for 2002:
Hardware product of the year: T-Mobile's Sidekick phone/e-mail device/PDA. Actually made by Danger Inc., of Palo Alto, Calif., but sold by the wireless phone firm, the Sidekick is a super-cool device that does its multiple functions well, at a price of under $200. T-Mobile (www.t-mobile.com) has a couple of decent pricing plans for service, both of which include "all-you-can-eat" e-mail, AOL Instant Messaging and wireless Internet. The device, using the Global Standard for Mobile (GSM), should work in dozens of countries.
Desktop computer of the year: You have to ask? Apple Computer's 17-inch iMac, cost $1,999, referenced here last week as a great holiday gift. Nothing else comes close to its fresh design, innovative features and sheer bravado.
Portable computer of the year: Microsoft's Tablet PC expressed so far in models from Acer America, Fujitsu, Hewlett-Packard and ViewSonic is a remarkable achievement that lets you treat a PC's screen as you would a legal pad: take notes, yes, but also file them. HP's version of the Tablet PC also is quite spiffy. Models coming next year from Gateway Computer and NEC should merit some investigation.
Inkjet printer combo of the year: Hewlett-Packard's OfficeJet D145 blends fax, printer, copier and scanner and it works on both Macintosh and Windows platforms. Rugged, dependable, and able to turn on a dime, it's a great product no home office should be without.
Laser printer of the year: Samsung's ML-1450 turned out crisp laser-printed pages with speed and style, again, working on both Windows and Macintosh systems. The printer has since been supplanted by the $399 ML-1650 from Samsung that offers faster page speeds.

Write to Mark Kellner at MarkKel@aol.com or visit the writer's Web page at www.kellner2000.com.

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