- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2003

With the new year fast approaching, it’s time to remember what the world of computing brought us in the past year, and consider what to expect in 2004.

Long live the PC: The personal computer is no longer an alien object in people’s lives. It’s as familiar to us now as color television sets were 40 years ago, and videocassette recorders were a generation or so back.

That means several things. For the PC-making companies, there’s a squeeze on profits: Gateway’s Ted Waitt told the Los Angeles Times recently that the old $500 profit a maker garnered on a new computer was down to about $50. Gateway is trying to expand by selling digital cameras and plasma-screen TV sets. Watch for Dell Computer, Hewlett-Packard and others to follow suit in the new year.

Linux, or Lindows? As far as the backbone systems of many enterprises are concerned, things like computer networks, corporate e-mail and file storage, the free or super-cheap Linux operating system has long been an option. Now, there’s a move to bring Linux to the desktop and give people computers that are close to the capabilities of those running Microsoft Windows, at a far lower cost.

The price drop comes from being able to use processor power better, memory more efficiently, and not having to pay the licensing fees Microsoft slaps on its operating systems and applications. Linux is free; desktop variants such as Lindows (www.lindows.com) are low-cost and often include basic, but useful, applications for word processing, spreadsheets and the like. Files are readable back and forth with Windows users.

All that’s fine until you run into an application or tool that isn’t available in this world of “open software.” For most people this may not be a problem, but for many of us, making the leap could yet deliver some hiccups. In 2004, expect to see more Linux-friendly applications and user-friendly machines.

Mac remains strong: This year’s introduction of ITunes by Apple Computer has won plaudits from all over. It is, for my money, the smoothest, most sensible and easiest-to-use music-download service. It runs on Windows and Macintosh computers. And it’s just plain fun.

“Fun,” frankly, is a word that can be used to describe other Mac features, as I’m into my second year of doing just about everything on a Mac, both at work and at home. There are still a couple of programs I use that are available only on a Windows platform, but these are handled, ably, by a program called Virtual PC 6, which I’ve installed on both home and office Macs. It’s an emulator that lets me run Windows XP, oddly enough, and it’s now made and sold by, ta-da, Microsoft Corp.

How Apple can maintain its momentum in 2004 is unknown. Beginning Sunday, however, the winter Macworld show in San Francisco might offer some answers.

But regardless of what is — or isn’t — announced by Apple honcho Steve Jobs at the California event, there’s one thing clear: No other platform that I’ve worked with is as enjoyable and crash-free as the Macintosh.

Digital photo: Prices for digital cameras and digital video gear are dropping; so are sizes and weights in some cases. That means more capability for less money, and more ways to use and spiff up and share what you’ve captured in Bangkok or in Boise.

Happy new year.

E-mail markkel@aol.com or visit www.kellner.us.

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