- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2003

If, as many have noted, yesterday’s observance of Labor Day marks the “end” of summer — my electric bill notwithstanding — then there’s a logical explanation for the raft of fall forecasts appearing just about now, kind of an inverse of spring’s blossoms.

What will be hot this fall? What will, ahem, “fall” by the wayside? Some predictions, computerwise:

• Apple’s smoking Panther: From what little I’ve seen so far — and a bit more that I’ve read in magazines such as Macworld (www.macworld.com) and MacAddict (www.macaddict.com) — the pending release of Mac OS X 10.3, code-named “Panther” by the Apple corps, will be a major advance.

The biggest improvements in Panther are likely to be “under the hood,” i.e., changes that make the operating system faster, even more stable and better able to handle some of the things users throw at it, such as multitasking and stretching available memory to its limits. But the cosmetic changes — a slick log-in screen display, better management of windows and a built-in font management program, to name three of MacAddict’s faves — will cause enough oohs and ahhs to send people scurrying to the stores.

I’m looking forward to what is being described, again by MacAddict as improvements in the Address Book and Mail applications, adding a little more oomph to each, if not the same power as Microsoft’s Entourage program.

For Mac users, Panther’s prowling promises a nice, if costly ($129), upgrade.

• Microsoft’s Office, sweet: Office 2003 will be in stores soon, with a formal Oct. 21 introduction set for New York. Hard-core users of the world’s leading personal-computer-based applications suite will be enamored of a smoother user interface and appearance, more power and tighter integration of XML, or “extensible markup language,” which will make it easier for documents, spreadsheets and other files to tap into corporate data stores.

On the surface, Office 2003’s applications will run smoother, better and with nicer appearance than before. A host of improvements to individual applications, such as a “reading mode” for Word, a “research pane” for all applications, and better spam-fighting and previews in Outlook, will appeal to different users. But the overall effect is to make Office 2003 a unified system for getting one’s daily work done, and done with ease, if not elan.

Perhaps a key element of Office 2003 will be OneNote, which, Microsoft says, allows users “to capture, organize and reuse … notes electronically.” A $200 add-on to the new Office suite (promotional prices will be available), the program creates an electronic notebook not easily seen elsewhere, with hooks among and across applications. It sounds like a useful feature, especially for those who tote their Tablet PCs to meetings.

• Flat screens soar: Prices for flat-screen liquid-crystal display monitors are so low that it’s almost ridiculous to consider anything else these days. Visit your local Costco and you can buy a 15-inch flat-panel display for as little as $270 and larger-sized ones at other good prices. Smaller and easier to lift and move than their cathode-ray tube counterparts, the flat panel display is here to stay.

• Comdex … the end? The last two years have seen Comdex, once the premiere trade show, falter and stumble under the weight of the September 11 terrorist attacks and a turbulent economy.

I haven’t heard a thing that makes me suspect the next Comdex will be any better, and all indications are that January’s Consumer Electronics Show, featuring keynote addresses by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Hewlett-Packard chairwoman Carly Fiorina, will be where the true tech-action resides.

E-mail Mark Kellner at MarkKel@aol.com or visit www.kellner.us.

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