Stuff for Christmas 95

by Alan Zisman (c) 1995. First published in Our Computer Player, December 1995

Thinking of a gift for that special computer-user on your list? Computer users can be notoriously difficult to buy for-- especially if you?re not particularly computer-articulate yourself. Too many well-intentioned computer-oriented gifts can end up being the high-tech equivalent of that tie or sweater destined for the back of the closet.

As with other gifts, the most appreciated are ones that are picked out with some thought to the needs, wants, and most of all, tastes of the recipient-- too many of us buy gifts that WE?D like, rather than ones that we know the recipient will like.

(You can always try this technique-- ask them! Or get a gift certificate from the computer or software vendor of your choice).

If you don?t know exactly what they want, make sure you know a few things about them and their computer first-- how old are they? Are they game players? Do they use Macs? PCs? Amigas? OS/2? There are few things more embarrassing among computer-gift givers than giving software or a computer toy that will only run on a different platform than theirs!

Some gifts are universal-- boxes of floppy disks, for example. A little bland, perhaps, but always useful... and virtually all computers can use the same 3 1/2? diskettes. Boxes of ten start under $5. Maybe for a stocking stuffer? Take a look at their computer and workspace... is their mouse pad filthy? Covered with coffee stains? New ones start at under $5, but for $10-20 you can get an especially cute one (again-- think of their tastes, not yours!) You can even get pads with a print of their favorite photo or graphic.

Buying software for someone else can be pretty tricky, unless they?ve dropped pretty specific hints about what they want (?Gee, Mom, that SimCity 2000 sure looks neat!?). Games, screen savers, sounds, and more can make nice gifts-- but they?re like buying music... there are lots of different tastes and desires. And as always, make sure you get something compatible with the computer platform-- giving a Mac user a Windows program is sort of like giving a music fan an 8-track tape for their CD player.

You might want to get a subscription to a computer magazine as a gift... but don?t just grab the first one on the shelf-- like lots of other areas of publishing, computer periodicals have gotten increasingly focused... there are magazines for PC users, Mac users, etc., for beginners, for programmers, for the technically oriented, for game-players. I?ve counted half a dozen magazines specializing on the Internet. Again, try and think of what how the person getting the gift uses her or his computer-- especially when they?re NOT at work. Then make sure they don?t already get that magazine.

Recently, I went Christmas shopping at Vancouver?s Doppler Computers, along with salespeople Sammy Ho and Jim Edmonds, and my eleven year old, Joey. We were searching for gifts for various age ranges, and at a variety of prices-- the sorts of things that could be fun, maybe a little quirky, that out favorite computer users might like, but often couldn?t justify buying for themselves.


Software that is both fun and educational (?edutainment?) is getting better and better... but most of it is now only available on CD-ROM. Make sure the child?s computer has a CD-ROM drive before buying these. Classics include Broderbund?s Living Books series, and Microsoft?s Magic School Bus. For the very young, these have been joined by Fisher Price titles, such as Fisher Price?s 123s. Prices range from $45 to about $70. For somewhat older kids, check out The Learning Company?s offerings (also available on floppy disk), such as the various SuperSolvers programs (about $50). All these programs list the suggested age range on the box-- make sure you get something that?s age appropriate. All these programs have both Mac and PC versions.

Small children often have problems with adult-sized mice, particularly the super-jumbo models such as the comma-shaped Microsoft Mouse. Smaller mice start at around $10 for a model from Genius, while both Microsoft and Logitech have offerings aimed at home or children, for about $60. There are even colorful replacement keyboards, aiming at younger computer users.

Popular games with all ages this season include the new 1996 version of NHL Hockey and Mortal Combat 3 (both about $70). For the same price, surprise an OS/2 user with IBM?s OS/2 Fun Pack.

If the seeming high price of games makes you want to rule them out as gifts, there are more and more available at relatively bargain prices. For example, you may be able to find re-releases of older software, with a sub-$20 price tag... I saw products like Chuck Yeager?s Air Combat, and a PGA Tour Golf/World Tour Tennis combo at that price range. Comics fans might enjoy the X-Man Interactive CD, also at that price.

Gamesters often find the standard computer keyboard + mouse combo frustrating... take a look at joysticks and gamepads. Burnaby?s Advanced Gravis makes a Nintendo-like PC GamePad for about $20. Joysticks start at that price, and quickly move up-- one current fave is SunCom?s Raptor, which resembles a fighter plane stick, costing about $89. For $70, you can get a bundle including the new MegaMan X game, along with an innovative 6-button game controller.


There are lots of options for the older computer user, as well.

Planning a trip? Maybe Rand McNally?s TripMaker ($59) will help make it more enjoyable. Or how about a trip to Cyberspace... if the recipient already has a modem, but isn?t yet hooked into the Internet, there?s the Internet Canada Access kit, which for $20 includes all the necessary software, and a 20 hour credit on the cross-Canada Access service. Similar bundles are available from most local Internet Service Providers.

Gift-givers with deeper pockets might want to speed up someone?s modem. A user stuck with an old 2400 bps modem will be thrilled with a $149 Sportster 14.4 model, while a 14.4 owner will love you forever for a $300 Sportster 28.8.

Less expensive gifts can help computer users manage clutter-- copy holders for around $40, CD holders under $10, Multimedia Organizers under $20. Improve someone?s health and safety with an ergonomically-designed gift... keyboard and mouse padded wrist rests for $15 each, on up to a redesigned keyboard, such as the $100 Microsoft Natural Keyboard.

Screen savers once helped protect monitors, but now are mostly for fun and decoration. For about $50, there are a wide range available, often with comic book, movie, or cartoon themes, allowing you to find the perfect one for that special person. For the graphics user, CDs have made it possible to distribute huge numbers of pictures at a much lower price-- such as ClickArt?s 25,000 picture ImagePak for $70.

If your special someone hasn?t yet added sound to their PC, a sound card such as the Sound Blaster 16 Value Edition will cost $149... but add to that the price of a pair of speakers... from $20 on up. If they DO have a pair of $20 speakers, you may want to improve their sound quality-- better speakers, with a sub-woofer for more impressive lows, start about $90 and can go up to about $170 or more.

If sound seems to frivolous, what could be more practical than a surge protector? Is the computer safe from power surges or lightning bolts? How about the modem in the phone jack? Very cheap powerbar-type surge protectors are actually pretty useless, but models that do protect start at $39, with more protection available for about $100 or so. Make sure there are phone plugs for those modem lines.

Notebook users would appreciate a bag for their computer, with room for some file folders, cords, disks, modem, and all. Colorful cloth models start around $50, with prices going up to $200 for classier leather.

Then there are the gadgets and gizmos. Scanners allow users to digitize pictures and text-- getting them onto their computer screen where they can be added to documents or manipulated in all sorts of wonderful and wacky ways. Black and white (?grey-scale?) models start just over $100, while colour models costs closer to $300. For the same price, check out Snappy... a little unit that lets you capture still shots from a TV or video player. One bargain unit is the Connectix QuickCam-- around $100. This ping-pong ball-sized gadget is a real video camera that plugs into a computer, allowing still or full motion (black and white only-- what do you want for $100) shots. The Windows version may be in the stores by the time you read this-- the Mac version should be available now.

Upping the price point, there are more and more gadgets... tape backup drives for under $300, for example (if she/he already has one, a couple of tapes are a more affordable, but still appreciated gift). A cordless mouse from Logitech, for $137 to get rid of some of those desktop wires. An 850 meg hard drive for $400 or so.

Or if you?re nowhere near those price ranges, how about decorative laser paper? Lots of different styles, about $10 a pack. In fact, special Christmas paper, for $5 a pack, lets you laser print letters home, on an attractive, pre-printed background.

As you can see, there are a wide range of presents available at various prices for computer users of all ages. If forced to choose, Joey narrowed down his choices to MegaMan X or NHL Hockey ?96. (Are you reading this, Grandma?) As for me? Oh, anything will do, thank you.

Search WWW Search

Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan