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Tuesday, October 5, 1993 < Prev Next >

Upcoming Upgrades Mean Happy Holidays For The Techno-Hungry

First it's back to school. Then it's the holidays. Then it's year-end inventory clearance.

Whatever the factors, fall quarter is traditionally computerdom's biggest, accounting for a majority of vendors' annual sales.

This year promises to be no different, with one exception: The hot new products will in many instances be hot new upgrades of old familiar tunes.

Before 1993 goes test pattern on us, a huge onslaught of "revved" (revised version) programs will hit the market. With luck there will be fewer tricks than treats for Halloween, only an occasional turkey for Thanksgiving, and a few gems that wise men from the east - say, Redmond - might bear.

If it's not too early to think gift-giving, the best preparation you can make is to find out what your intended's favorite computer applications are. Chances are one of them is being upgraded in time for the holidays.

Following is a list of some of the more eagerly awaited upgrades. But first, an aside: A number of the programs promise OLE compatibility. The reference is to Microsoft's Object Linking and Embedding standard.

With wide adoption, OLE will become one of computing's most significant evolutions of the '90s. It lets users drag and drop folders, files, elements of files and other "objects" from one program to another - file management without resorting to tedious and hard-to-learn DOS commands or cumbersome cut-and-paste maneuvers.

It also lets users work with elements of a file that were produced in another program - e.g., a graph produced in a spreadsheet, then inserted in a word processor and pulled into a desktop publishing program - without having to open up those separate programs.

A lot of the drudgery of personal computing goes away with OLE. It will take awhile for its promise to be fulfilled, but many of the leading software makers are already building it into product upgrades.

PageMaker 5.0 for Macintosh and Windows. Aldus added more than 100 features, including long-awaited rotational control for text and graphics. Better file compatibility, including Kodak Photo CD, DXF, WordPerfect graphics and Metafile/PICT conversion, and support for OLE also kicked up the gotta-have factor.

Visio 2.0 for Windows (also OLE compatible). Doing anything graphical on a computer, from drawing a map to putting together an organizational chart, was a journey of a thousand miles before Shapeware simplified the process.

Visio makes drawing simply a matter of dragging already-designed objects - a stop sign, bridge, house, etc. for a map, say - onto a grid. You can resize, add text, move objects around, connect them.

Working with Visio is like having a graphics artist watching over your shoulder. I put together a presentable map to our home in about 20 minutes - no more crude line drawings and illegible street numbers. Visio is aimed at the business user, with "stencils" of already-designed objects for organizational charts, flow charts, etc., but has enough flexibility for a variety of personal uses as well.

Neat trick: If you pause the mouse cursor on a button or icon, a "yellow sticky" note appears telling you what that object does. It's a more professional-looking version of the Macintosh's balloon-help feature. There's also a new tool bar, lots of "undos" and a growing library of "smart shapes" and stencil sets.

Microsoft Cinemania and Encarta, both part of the new Microsoft Home consumer-software series. These are two of multimedia's real "sleeper" products, waiting for a huge potential audience to catch on to their value and functionality.

Cinemania, the movie-catalog CD-ROM disc, is adding the reviews of Pauline Kael and Roger Ebert, who may never again be mentioned in the same breath, to those of Leonard Maltin. There are longer sound sequences and something new - video clips from 20 films (remember, video and sound on a computer, although fun, are not quite the same as Cinemax, or even RCA).

Encarta, the multimedia encyclopedia, has an appealing new opening screen and several new or enhanced categories, including Notable Women, Sports, Visual Arts, Jazz, World Politics. And some videos of its own, including a delightful basketball sequence (with Harlem Globetrotters and old Boston Celtics clips) that Chairman Bill Gates, the company's No. 1 basketball fan, undoubtedly approved.

Some quick hits: WordPerfect 6.0 will prove that the Orem, Utah, word processing company has mastered Windows. Spreadsheet fans have a wealth of riches: Lotus 1-2-3 version 4 has garnered great reviews, as has Borland's price-busting ($49.95 retail) Quattro Pro 5.0. Microsoft expects to issue its own five-star upgrade of Excel with its new Microsoft Office suite of productivity products as well.

Why the convergence of upgrades for the holidays? In a tough economy, the holiday season is the one sure sell. But there's also a pause in innovation for PC (which in this column still stands for "personal computer") software.

Really useful sound recognition is almost here. Fully functioning PDAs are on the way. Powerful new platforms - Windows NT, Apple-IBM-Motorola's PowerPC - are being refined and awaiting applications that make the most of them.

In the meantime, upgrades will serve to whet the holiday appetites of the techo-hungry.

News bytes

"Navigating the Internet" will be discussed at a how-to session from 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 13 at Hewlett-Packard Co., 15815 S.E. 37th St., Bellevue. Contact the Northwest Regional Users Group for advanced registration ($10), P.O. Box 613, Bothell, 98041-0613, or fax 489-0328. . . . The inaugural meeting of the Windows NT Users Group will be at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Infotec Training Institute, 600 University St., Suite 320.

Tip of the week

Microsoft's new screen-saver series, Microsoft Scenes, contains easy-order forms to turn a photo or other image into your own personalized saver. Great for family photos, pets or personal trademarks.

User Friendly appears Tuesdays in The Seattle Times. Paul Andrews is a member of The Times staff.

The Seattle Times

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