Handheld computing devices enter new era


"Windows everywhere" seems to have been Bill Gates' motto in the past year, and we're seeing the fruits of Microsoft's work in the area of non-traditional computer devices.

Seven manufacturers and partner Microsoft Corp. introduced last week the Palm PC, a personal digital assistant (PDA) based on the new Windows CE 2.0 operating system.

PDAs are the handheld devices similar to the electronic indexes folks use to keep addresses and phone numbers. The big difference is in the computing power of the new devices.

PDAs like the Palm PC rival the technical specifications of desktop systems from the not-too-distant past, and add neat features like a built-in paging system -- all in a compact package (If you're an Apple fan, think "Newton," only a bit smaller).

The devices are aimed at folks who want simple and easy access to e-mail and data communications, but don't want the hassle and expense of a laptop computer.

The Palm PC, available by mid-year from a variety of manufacturers, will be priced at about $500, which puts them competitively between the price of a low-end laptop computer and one of the more expensive electronic organizers.

Microsoft's seven partners are Philips Mobile Computing Group, Samsung Electronics America Inc., LG Electronics U.S.A. Inc. and Casio Inc., along with Everex Systems Inc., Palmax Technology Co. and Uniden Corp., with others likely to follow suit in the near future.

In the partnership, Microsoft provided the Palm PC specification and the operating system. The hardware companies will offer a variety of additional features to the base Palm PC models to meet customer demand.

The Palm PCs will all be equipped with Windows 2.0 CE operating system and will feature Note Taker, a natural handwriting interface that takes notes and converts them to Word files on a desktop PC system.

Most of the devices are about the size of your hand, with vertically oriented LCD displays.

A pocket version of Internet Explorer 4.0 is also part of the package, and allows users access to e-mail, stock data and information delivered via "push" technology.

With the continuing trend toward smaller and smaller computing devices, it's only a matter of time before comic-strip crimefighter Dick Tracey's two-way wrist TV is a reality -- and on sale at your local discount retailer.

EXPLORE CAREFULLY. Regular readers of this column may remember my enthusiastic review recently of Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.0.

The new browser beats Netscape Navigator 4.0 in many ways, and offers users a preview of using Windows 98. IE 4.0 transforms your Windows 95 desktop into a Web-style interface.

If you decide to try IE4.0 -- or already have it installed -- you should be aware of certain issues that arise when you uninstall it or other software programs for Windows 95.

IE4.0's installation makes some major changes in the Windows operating system, replacing a number of crucial files with updated versions.

Problems can arise when you add or remove software that changes or adds certain files that IE4.0 may have changed.

I ran into trouble when I removed software that had been installed before I put IE4.0 on my computer. The result was a major headache trying to uninstall the new browser so I could reinstall it and make use of it again.

Microsoft's online support files recommend uninstalling IE4.0 before you try to take off programs you put on before Internet Explorer.

I'm still enthusiastic about IE4.0, but I recommend users visit the Microsoft Web site and read up on how to properly uninstall it before doing so. You'll save yourself a lot of trouble.

Visit Microsoft's online support at www.microsoft.com/support/.

EUDORA EUPHORIA. Old-timers on the Internet will undoubtedly be familiar with Qualcomm's e-mail software package, Eudora.

The product comes in two flavors, including: Eudora Lite, a version that's distributed free of charge; and Eudora Pro, a full-featured e-mail client that is sold through retail channels.

Eudora has been widely available for both Windows and Macintosh operating systems, and now the company has released its latest version for the Mac.

This latest incarnation includes additional features for filtering and management of e-mail, and support for voice e-mail and HTML-based messages.

While Web browsers are equipped these days with their own e-mail features, I still prefer to use Eudora on my PC.

If you aren't happy with how your Web browser handles e-mail, you might want to try using Eudora or other software products to handle those tasks.

For more information, visit Qualcomm's Web site at www.qualcomm.com.

HARD DRIVE TIMES. The manufacturers of computer disk storage devices -- known as hard drives -- have fallen on hard times recently.

The problem? Too many manufacturers have flooded the market with too many drives, and the glut has forced prices down.

Last week, Seagate Technology -- the leading maker of computer hard drives a few years ago -- announced its second quarter earnings would be worse than first thought.

Seagate closed a drive plant in Ireland in December and laid off 1,400 workers in an effort to stem the flow of red ink.

For consumers, there's a nice silver lining -- cheaper prices for computer hard drives.

Prices for drives larger than 2 GB seem to be dropping all the time. My sister's new 3.2GB drive for her computer cost about the same price as a drive one-third that size I bought less than two years ago.

If your computer need a larger hard drive, there's no better time to buy one.

JOB WELL DONE. Saving Apple Computers from financial ruin may take a little magic from Interim CEO Steve Jobs, but the company's co-founder pulled more than a rabbit out of his hat at last week's Macworld trade show.

During his keynote address, Jobs announced the company will announce a $45 million profit on sales of $1.57 billion for the last quarter.

Its not a lot, but it beats losing more money, which is what analysts were predicting for the beleagured company.

During his address, Jobs also announced the company will be releasing Mac OS 8.1 in February, which is an update to its latest operating system.

Comments and questions about this column may be sent to jbrooks@myoldkentuckyhome.com, or visit www.myoldkentuckyhome.com on the World Wide Web.

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