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    10 years after: revisiting 1995 office technology innovations

    by  Alan Zisman (c) 2005 First published in Business in Vancouver August 30-September 5, 2005; issue 827, High Tech Office column

    This past March, the 10th anniversary of my writing the High Tech Office column for BIV quietly slipped by. Let's take a belated peek back in our Wayback Machine to 1995, to see what mattered then, how far we've come (or not), and where we might expect to be going.

       Windows 95. We were waiting for this promised next big thing from Microsoft, which appeared that August. While virtually no one runs Win 95 any longer, it was the next big thing, with long file names, plug and play hardware support, built-in networking and Internet support, and an interface we're still using a decade later. In 2005 the pace of operating system change has slowed down, which is probably a good thing, but we're again supposed to be waiting for Microsoft's next big thing, in this case Windows Vista (the operating system formerly known as Longhorn), due in 2006. Or 2007.

      The Internet. Windows 95 didn't install Internet-style TCP/IP networking by default because Microsoft hoped users would buy into the company's proprietary Microsoft Network (MSN) service. Instead, the wild, woolly, and very non-proprietary Internet took off, with 1995 being the year that the (then 20-year-old) Net became open to non-profit organizations. In Issue 289, this column looked at some local pioneers online, including record label Nettwerk, non-profit West Coast Environmental Law Society, and Ozzie Jurock's NorthWest Homes OnLine. 1995 was also the year that the Netscape Web browser and eBay debuted. In Issue 302, I tried to convince business that "thar's gold in that thar Net." Now we pretty much take the Web for granted, both for personal use and as a business tool.

      Digital cameras started to appear as consumer products in 1995. Early models were black and white, low resolution by current standards, expensive, and difficult to use. In 1995 London Drugs began offering to burn photos onto CD discs. As is often the case, it actually took seven or eight years for the seemingly overnight digital camera revolution. Another 1995 innovation: MP3 compressed audio, now the software basis for music players and file sharing.

      Yet another 1995 innovation that took its time catching on: the Universal Serial Bus (USB). A decade ago, users could simply plug in a wide range of gadgets to their computers, as long as they had a Mac that had built-in support for a technology named SCSI, pronounced "scuzzy." Easy as long as you remembered your system needed to be shut down, each SCSI device needed a different ID number, and the whole chain of devices needed a terminator at the end.

    PC owners were worse off; most often, they needed to open their computer's case and plug in a card after fiddling with near microscopic jumpers and switches. Some devices started to appear that could plug into the PC printer port, but these were slow and clumsy workarounds.

    USB promised a universal way to attach devices, with no need to shut down your computer or fuss with jumpers or ID numbers. But USB usage only really caught on when Apple's 1998 iMac created a large market of users with USB built in and no other way to connect to printers, cameras and more.

    Issue 306's column looked at "hydras": all-in-one units combining printer, scanner and fax. Now these multifunction devices are home and small business staples.

    And issue 317's column noted that "portables are taking over from desktop units." In 2005, notebooks are outselling desktop computers.

    The moral: even seemingly rapid technological changes take their own sweet time coming to pass. Don't jump on the latest bandwagon, at least not without a solid business plan.

    It's been a fun 10 years, and, publisher willing, it's not over yet.

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