2000: The year that was

by Alan Zisman (c) 2000. First published in Vancouver Computes, December 2000

Just about time to put The Year 2000 to rest. So here are some personal bests and less than best for the year that was.

Biggest Non Event has to go to the Year 2000 itself. Despite media-whipped fears of civilization as we know if failing within moments of midnight December 31, 1999, 2000 came, and by the time you're reading this, has pretty much passed without anything momentous happening.

We will, of course, never really know whether civilization as we know it was saved by all the time and money spent upgrading computer hardware and software. And I have come across a run of 486s with non-upgradeable 1994-model Award BIOS chips that insist that it is the year 2994.

Runner-up: the Microsoft trial. Yes, the judge skewered the company, and public perception of Bill Gates has changed dramatically from whiz-kid billionaire to monopolist. But the company has not been split apart, and nothing dramatic is likely to happen anytime soon.

However, this was the year when it started to look like Microsoft simply may not matter?at least not the way it did for most of the 1990s.

Speaking of which?

Best Microsoft Operating System: Windows 2000 Professional. It just keeps on ticking. I've been running it (including pre-release versions) for over a year now, and it runs and runs and runs. A few things to note, however. If you're a gamer, don't even think about. And some people have found it simply won't work with their hardware, either because it doesn't include drivers for their needed peripherals or because it just won't install and run.

Least needed Microsoft Operating System: Windows ME. Not only a name out of an Austin Powers movie, but why bother? Upgraded Windows 98 systems run 10-15% slower and virtually no one has the hardware needed to make use of its clone of Apple's iMovie. It will show up on your new hardware, however.

Operating System not yet ready for the desktop: Linux. Sorry people looking for a non-Microsoft solution. Linux isn't ready for mass acceptance. On the same notebook where I'm running Win2000 Pro, Linux lacks sound card and network card support. And late in the year, the competition between KDE and Gnome for Linux user interface of choice doesn't help. Once again, maybe next year.

Favorite small device: This was the year when it finally made sense for me to get a handheld computer. I opted for a Handspring Visor Deluxe?running the Palm operating system, it supports the standard that 80% of handheld users have bought into. I've still got lots of its 8 MB of RAM free, though I would have found the 2 MB on entry-level Palm and Visor models too restricting. And by the end of the year, add-ons making use of the Visor's Springboard expansion slot finally started to appear.

Coolest software for small devices: AvantGo. If you get your handheld online, it's a web browser. But more useful, it's a web browser for your handheld when you're not online?even if your handheld can't get online. Choose your favorite sites from the hundreds on their list, or add your own, and when you sync your Palm, Visor, or WinCE handheld, the Internet content is downloaded to your desktop computer and shot over to your handheld?neatly formatted to be easily readable on your handheld.

Most useful software for small devices: Documents to Go. Unlike the WinCE competition, Palm (and Palm-clone Visor) handhelds lack support for Microsoft Office and other standard desktop word processors and spreadsheets. Doc2Go (www.dataviz.com) lets you read your word processor and spreadsheet documents on your handheld, and makes it easy to move files back and forth. The newest Professional version lets you edit the documents on your handheld as well, and will automatically make sure you're using the latest revision of the file.

Least necessary feature for small devices:  Web browsing on cell phones. Yes, digital cell phones have the wireless connectivity that is an expensive add-on for handheld computers like Palms, Visors, and WinCE devices. Like handhelds, cell phones give a clipped view of the Web. But their much teenier screens make it much harder to actually read any content. And try entering information typing on a phone keypad. Despite the hype, this is not the coming thing.

Favorite game: The Sims (www.maxis.com). Where the classic SimCity made you Mayor of a town, The Sims lets you play God or Goddess to the town's inhabitants. You can be as good or evil as you choose, while seeing whether your creations suffer or prosper under your care.

Least Favorite Game Feature: Code bloat. We complain about fattened up operating systems and office suites, but does SimCity 3000 (as just one of far too many examples of obese games) really need to install over 400 MB worth of files? Even in this era of 20 GB hard drives, lets look for games (and other software) that has been put on a diet.

Happy holidays! More in the New Year.

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