Feb 1996 News

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Publish at All Costs

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Top Ten Best Selling Windows Business Software

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Elite No More

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Cds Inch Towards Windows 95

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Serial Killer

Hard Questions for SoftRAM95

by: John J. Yacono

Not many products rack up huge sales even as they draw critical fire, but that's been the case with SoftRAM95 from Syncronys. On one hand, the software's promise--that it "turns 4MB of RAM into 8MB," and thereby instantly speeds up Windows' performance--has lured huge numbers of buyers. On the other hand, critics say the package does nothing of the kind.

Among the early skeptics was a research scientist at the University of Oregon, who said the program "actually slows down a user's machine" and that "no compression [is ever] used." A German magazine made similar charges (and subsequently got sued).

Seeking to capitalize on the situation, Connectix, which makes rival product RAM Doubler, commissioned an evaluation from the National Software Testing Laboratories. In a point-by-point refutation of claims made by Syncronys, the NSTL study concluded that it was "difficult to find a single real-world benchmark where SoftRAM95 offers any performance enhancements."

Syncronys responded with its own study, which concluded that "the Windows 3.1 version offers robust and verifiable improvements." However, the firm acknowledged that there was a problem with the Win95 version, "the net result of which is that RAM compression is not being delivered."

Syncronys has since offered registered users a free upgrade or a money-back guarantee. And despite the evidence from a variety of sources, the company continued to stand by its product, claiming that critics of the package are "insulting the intelligence" of the 700,000 people who have already bought the software.

Meanwhile, criticism of the top-selling software continued to mount. Among the new charges was the accusation that the code embedded within SoftRAM95 had been lifted almost wholesale from Microsoft's own virtual device driver, DYNAPAGE.VXD, which had been released as part of the beta of the Windows 95 Software Developers Kit.

In the midst of all the controversy, one key question remained: If the software failed to work under Win95, how did it get the "Designed for Windows 95" logo? Veritest, the company appointed by Microsoft to handle the certification program, says the package tested positive for Win95 compatibility and functionality. But for its part Microsoft stressed that the product had not been authorized to use the logo, since it "failed to comply with the required terms and conditions for licensing the logo." The company also emphasized that Syncronys had used the beta code from DYNAPAGE.VXD "without permission."

At presstime, asserting its intellectual property rights, Microsoft had demanded that Syncronys "cease and desist" shipping the copied code and stop using the Windows 95 logo. For its part, Syncronys agreed to cooperate with the demands spelled out by Microsoft. But given the success of the product--it was the top-selling utility for the month of October--the controversy isn't likely to fade away anytime soon.

A Whole New Office

by: Jim Forbes and John D. Ruley

A new generation of Office applications should be on retail shelves early this year, Microsoft executives said recently. The new version of Office will be able to generate HTML coding and will be much more suited for use on the Internet, wide-area and local-area networks.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates said the "largest improvements in the new version of Office will be to support intranets and Internet use." Microsoft made the decision to "deliberately limit" new features in Office 95, introduced with Windows 95. At that time, Microsoft was already working on the future Office, Gates said. Office will better support "features such as internal Web pages and other attributes that make it easier to publish word processing, spreadsheet and database data internally or externally."

Another new addition to Office will be support for Microsoft Phone, expected to be included in the new versions of Office and other Microsoft applications, Gates said (see The Explorer). The new version of Office makes it easier to find and publish documents on the network and across the Internet, and it has facilities that make it easier to collaboratively develop documents. Changes to the interface make it easier to use.

NT on Notebooks

by: John D. Ruley

Sources at Microsoft and several notebook vendors say developers are looking to bring mobility to Windows NT. Unlike Microsoft's other 32-bit system, NT lacks features, like Plug-and-Play support, that make living with a portable easy. But high-end mobile users want it.

So, the NT development team is accelerating the development of key Plug-and-Play features for the next two versions. The Big SUR release may include a fix for NT's tendency to lose track of PCMCIA cards when a portable goes into "standby" mode.

And full PnP support may be near. "We might do an early release of NT-Cairo with hot-docking support," said a source on the development staff.

Toshiba's Gary Elsasser sees "significant" demand for NT among users of high-end notebooks like Toshiba's Tecra 700 line.

Apllications Meet Cyberspace

by: James E. Powell

The Microsoft Network is getting a little less exclusive.

When Microsoft introduced its online service, the company touted it as a new outlet for technical support. All you had to do was click on the right link in the Help file of any application, and you were instantly logged on to the appropriate support forum on MSN. But the adoption rate for MSN is still low--and that has other companies looking for alternatives.

Blue Sky Software and Netscape jumped on the bandwagon early by jointly developing tools that developers can use to create an instant "jump" from a Windows Help file to any Web site. Called WinHelp Internet Access, it's part of the WinHelp Office 95 Help offering. Mean-while, America Online has AOL Developers Studio, comprising tools for adding online functionality to applications.

With these tools, and with others pending, expect many applications in the future to have easy links to online forums--at least some of which may not come cheap.

New Phrase for Tech Support

by: Jim Forbes

As the World Wide Web gains popularity in corporate America, it's no surprise that some emerging applications are being aimed at this target market. And, of course, one potential use is customer support.

Online help isn't a new concept, but an instantly accessible URL is. And that's where these home pages are headed. Tektronix is the first hardware firm to develop a cyberlink between user and manufacturer. The company has released PhaserLink, built-in software for its laser printers that links the user to its Web site.

For PhaserLink to work, the printer needs to be connected to a local area network that supports TCP/IP. When it's hooked up, functions such as monitoring printer usage can be controlled through embedded HTML commands. PhaserLink also helps network managers make sure they have access to the latest printer drivers.

Can't Emulate? Translate

by: John D. Ruley

From the earliest days of Windows NT, one of its most touted features has been its portability to the RISC architecture--yet NT remains an Intel-heavy operating system. This may be due, in part, to RISC vendors' inability to deliver low-cost systems, and the lack of first-class application support. In essence, NT on Intel can run most Windows 95 applications; NT on RISC can't do so.

Change Is Coming

That's about to change, at least with Digital's Alpha AXP 21x64 line. Digital's semiconductor division recently demonstrated Word and Excel version 7.0 for Win95 running, without modification, on Alpha--and faster than on a Pentium system. The reason: FX!32, an Intel-to-Alpha software "translator" developed by Digital.

This approach is not new, but users previously needed to run translation as a separate task, creating a new executable. With FX!32, the process is automatic.

Digital says FX!32 will allow users to run "the vast majority" of Windows 95 applications at 40 to 70 percent of native Alpha performance. The company expects to deliver FX!32 as a free upgrade by mid-year.

Business Moves Off the Desktop

by: Jim Forbes

More desktop PCs are being sold today than ever before. Yet inside corporate installations, there are telltale signs of a major shift: Those desktops are being replaced, slowly but surely, by a new breed of Pentium-powered notebooks and PCI-based docking stations.

Over the years, many vendors have tried to position their notebooks as alternatives to desktop PCs. Some companies, notably Apple, Compaq, IBM, NEC and Toshiba, have claimed that as many as one-third of their high-end laptops are already sold with docking stations, which allow users to quickly attach their notebooks to resources such as the Internet. "It makes more sense to give a salesman a notebook than a desktop," said Kim Brown, who tracks notebook computers for market research firm Dataquest. "But for now, notebook computers as desktop replacements are largely limited to expensive [$4,000 and up] portable computers," he added.

Catching Up

Of course, until recently, notebook technology lagged behind desktop technology by up to a year. "However, Intel [which now offers a 120MHz Pentium for notebooks and is expected to offer even faster versions for portables in 1996] is being very aggressive by introducing new PCI-based chip sets for notebooks and other technologies at a much faster rate than in the past," Brown said. Analysts point out that up to 60 percent of all notebooks sold this year will be powered by Pentium processors.

"The acceptance of PCI-based docking stations appears to be growing," concurred Bill Zinsneister, analyst with International Data Corp. "The addition of 32-bit graphics accelerators, more video memory and larger active-matrix color screens will also accelerate the use of notebook computers as replacements for desktops."

Vendors are doing their part, too, slashing prices even as they add features. The new processor functionality and added capabilities, combined with "value-priced" machines that cost between $2,000 and $2,700, give vendors better ammunition than ever before to aim their notebooks squarely at the desktop market.

Recap

Microsoft Phone Home

by: Dave Raffo

In another move into the telephony market, Microsoft unveiled Microsoft Phone, a software package aimed at pushing the PC and telephone even closer together. The product lets you dial a phone and review voice- and e-mail messages with speech commands. When you're out of the office, the application can forward your e-mail and fax messages, or have your PC read headers and e-mail to you by phone. It stores all your mail and faxes in the Microsoft Exchange inbox, logs incoming and outgoing calls, and lets you set up a variety of mailboxes with separate greetings for each one.

Power at Home

by: Jim Forbes

Processor giant Intel is poised to reach even further into the consumer market with new CPUs designed specifically for home use. From a cost point of view, the strategy makes sense: As Intel executive vice president and chief operating officer Craig Barrett points out, the price per MIPS of processing power has plummeted from $270 four years ago to $7 today. By the second half of this year, Intel is likely to introduce the P55C, which has multimedia extensions, and could release samples of the 200MHz Pentium Pro processor. Intel plans to convert more of its microprocessor lines to the 0.35-micron manufacturing process, helping the company maintain its lead in the production of high-speed, low-voltage CPUs. With pending bells and whistles such as 3-D graphics and sound, the consumer PC market is set to grow by 18 percent each year.

Technology Watch

VRML Gets Real

by: Ian Etra

When VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) debuted a year ago, it defined a standard for creating 3-D objects with hyperlinks on the Web. So far it's been more virtual than reality. But there are hints of a major change.

For example, while creating a standard Web page is now inexpensive, 3-D choices were limited to high-end tools like SGI's WebSpace Author (cost: $995). Now Caligari has released Fountain, an authoring/browsing tool, into the public domain. It lets you create 3-D worlds with hyperlinks from scratch, or import models from commercial 3-D packages--get it from http: //www.caligari.com.

Meanwhile, ParaGraph has the Beta2 version (cost: $49) of Home Space Builder. You can also download a trial copy from http: //www.paragraph.com/whasnew/homespce.htm.

On the browser side, check out WebFX from Paper Software
(http: //www.paperinc.com). It integrates with Netscape 2.0 and allows live 3-D objects on the same page as regular HTML. Others include Intervista's WorldView
(http: //www.webmas ter.com/vrml/wvwin32/) and Chaco Communications' VR Scout (http: //www.chaco.com/vrscout/).

Serial Standards Out to Reshape the PC

by: John Gartner

Two high-band-width serial bus technologies promise higher performance and flexibility that extends far beyond the capabilities of today's PC. The competition for new bus standards should also heat up as 1394 (or Firewire) and SSA products further the integration of consumer-electronics devices with PCs.

SSA (Serial Storage Architecture) was developed by a consortium of vendors to offer flexibility and performance superior to those offered by SCSI. These devices are hot-pluggable and can be set up as a loop (all devices communicating with each other) or as a branch (the devices communicating only with a host). IBM and other vendors are currently shipping SSA products, though the standard is yet to be ratified.

Originally proposed by Apple in the late 1980s, 1394 overlaps with the Universal Serial Bus as a platform for linking peripherals. The earliest products will likely be in consumer electronics, since 1394 offers the wider bandwidth craved by video devices. In fact, Sony has announced a real-time video camera that does not need a video capture card; it should be out in the first quarter of 1996.

Affinity for Intergration

by: William Gee

As part of its Affinity strategy, Digital Equipment recently delivered products and services aimed at providing seamless integration between Windows NT and Digital's own mainframe-class OpenVMS.

To create the appropriate technology for applications developers, Digital was given access to NT source code. Version 7.0 of OpenVMS allows Windows NT servers to integrate with a 24-hour, 365-days-a-year fault-tolerant clustered environment unavailable under Windows NT.

The first releases in this series include Win32 APIs for OpenVMS, DECADMIRE 3.0 (an applications-development tool), Reliable Transaction Router 3.1 (middleware for distributed client/-server applications) and an NT Server transaction-monitoring application.

Digital estimates that Windows NT will comprise 40 percent of the server market by the year 2000. That's why, at press time, more than 20 vendors had committed to developing Affinity products.

Notes From the Lab

by: Contributors: Mike Elgan, Jim Forbes, John Gartner, John D. Ruley, John Yacono, Serdar Yegulalp

From Winmag Central

Comdexmania!!!

We escaped the confines of WinMag Central and headed west for our annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for Fall Comdex. There, we prostrate ourselves before the Lords of Technology and pay homage to the gadgetry that will fill our days and nights in the years to come.

So what tickled our collective fancy this year (at least more than Siegfried and Roy and their white tigers)? 3-D accelerator boards that come with 3-D glasses, an 18-gigabyte optical disk from Philips, inexpensive CD-Recorders, 1-gig hard drives for $250, 20-inch slim video displays (just like the ones you see on the Starship Enterprise), and printers and notebooks with fast (4Mbps) infrared ports. It's going to be a fun year at the shop.

We saw lots of ISDN cards, too, and they're getting very cheap. "The Internet is ISDN's killer app," Brad Silverberg, head honcho for personal systems at Microsoft, told us. He wasn't exaggerating: You'll soon see sub-$200 cards right next to the screen savers and mega-kill games at your local computer store.

We found an interesting e-mail program that made us think about exchanging Win95's e-mail program. Pronto mail from CommTouch software is an Exchange replacement (shhh--not even your administrator knows the difference) that smartly recognizes URLs and will launch your browser if you click on one.

Oh yeah, and one more thing: the dazzling universe of AlphaWorld
(http: //www.xs4all.nl/~1charles/aworld.html).
Here you can interact with others and alter the course of (online) history.

It's Never Too Late ...

... to work on those files at the office. Connecting to your office PC using Microsoft Plus' RAS (remote-access server) connection really is the next best thing to being there. When combined with Auto On/Off + Aux from Server Technologies (800-835-1515), you've got a cost-efficient and secure system that can't be beat. We've tinkered with two modes of operation--one boots the PC if there's an incoming call and turns it off after the call ends, the other leaves the PC on most of the time but reboots if the PC hangs. The Windows 95 version also informs the computer of an imminent shutdown, allowing it to leave the OS first. Just think--you can work whenever and wherever you want, 24 hours a day. Great.

Downgrading Upgrades

The tech support lines at several system manufacturers have been burning up with problems from would-be Pentium Overdrive upgraders. According to officials at direct seller Gateway 2000, most of the problems are from 1993 motherboards with the first Overdrive sockets, which require specific models of Overdrive chips. By 1994, most motherboards featured ZIF sockets and updated BIOSes and are more accommodating to Pentium chips. A word to the wise--call your system manufacturer (with serial number in hand) and ask if your system can use a specific Overdrive chip before you buy one.

Smart CD Sharing

Attention, Kmart shoppers--before you spend your money on a portable CD-ROM drive for your notebook, consider the SCSI alternative. Why settle for a 2X parallel-port device when you can have a 6X external drive that's just as easy to transport? All you need is a PCMCIA SCSI card (available from Adaptec and others). The external drive has better performance, and you can share it with your desktop machine, too.

Heads Up


Copyright 1995 CMP Publications Inc.