Business in Vancouver: News that works for you

    It has taken a while, but multimedia's benefits for business are becoming clear

    by Alan Zisman (c) 1995 First published in Business in Vancouver ,  Issue #297  July 4, 1995 High Tech Office  column

    The engine that drives home computer sales these days is multimedia--CD-ROMs, sound cards and speakers that, added together, make the home computer a potent games machine at only 10 to 15 times the cost of a dedicated games computer like a Sega or Nintendo.

    These add-ons are also being targeted at business users. But is there any need for multimedia in the office? Or is this just a move by your employees to try to goof off playing games on company time?

    Well, there are some legitimate uses for multimedia in the business context. For example, those inevitable presentations have evolved from static slides and overheads. Now multimedia presentations can include sound and video as well as fancy dissolves between frames. At least some of you will want access to sound cards and speakers, as well as to CD-ROMs full of sound and video clips for this purpose.

    Perhaps more employees can benefit from the multimedia tutorials that have begun sprouting up on at least a few of the CD-ROM versions of business programs. Lotus, for instance, has done a good job of including CD-based animated tutorials with recent versions of its spreadsheets. As well, it has released ScreenCam, which allows you to create your own movies of what's happening on screen, adding voice-over if desired--a good tool for producing in-house tutorials.

    Similarly, old versions of the CorelDraw illustration package came with a VHS-format videotape tutorial: now the tutorial is on CD-ROM. It isn't multimedia, but there is a growing justification for CD-ROM players on business machines for the painful task of installing software. If you upgrade to Windows 95 sometime this fall, you can look forward to flipping through a dozen and a half or so floppy disks. OS/2 Warp takes a similar number. Or count the disks in an Office-type application suite. Any of these products is much easier to install from a single CD-ROM disk. Moreover, a CD-ROM is less likely to become damaged, and it can't be accidentally deleted or formatted.

    Short on hard-drive space? Many applications will let you add a bare minimum of files to your drive, running the less-often-used code from the CD-ROM disk. And there are a growing number of reference disks, from the original CD-ROM best-seller Microsoft Bookshelf, with its dictionary, quotations, thesaurus, atlas, almanac and so forth, to Canadian postal codes, street atlases (every street in the U.S.), all of Canada's phone books, census data, and more.

    And a single CD-ROM player (or even better, a multi-disk player) on the network can be accessed by all your machines. CD-ROM is becoming the distribution medium of choice for many software producers. It costs only a dollar or so to produce disks in quantity (the plastic box may cost more than the disk it holds) and when you put the documentation on disk instead of printed volumes, there are big cost savings.

    Some of these even get passed on to the consumer. For example, Apple's System 7 operating system upgrade was sold, a few years ago, in traditional floppy disk format for about $100. The latest, System 7.5, is included as a free CD-ROM disk with the purchase of a $4.95 computer magazine.

    While CD-ROM may be a superior way to distribute or install large amounts of software, and it's ideal for accessing large databases, some of the attempts to sell multimedia to business have bordered on the hype reminiscent of the first wave of home computers. Just as early '80s home users realized that they really didn't need a computer to balance the cheque-book or store recipes, many business users justifiably recoil when they're told to get a multimedia-capable computer so that they can add voice-annotation to their spreadsheets. (Yes, you really can do this with today's hardware and software: add an icon that, when clicked, plays back your voice explaining what the number in cell D17 really means. But does anyone actually do this? If I'm missing the point here, please send me e-mail and let me know!)

    And computer-based teleconferencing may turn into a valid application requiring multimedia capability, but we're not there just yet. Still, it's a mistake to react to the hype and assume that there are no valid uses for CD-ROM or sound capabilities for the computers in your office. From installing software to accessing disks full of information to running (or creating your own) multimedia training and presentations, there is a place for multimedia and CD-ROM. Just turn the volume down, please

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