If I can be permitted to vary from my usual format, I would like to end the year with the first annual Friday Awards For Supplying Material to Computer-Oriented Humorists. These honors are named after Ashton-Tate’s Edsel of a flatfile database from some years back, a program whose only remaining legacy is a lovely teeshirt, one of which I own.
Although, in theory, these are the 1987 awards, some are given for products actually released in previous years. I have included them anyway either because I first encountered them in the past year, they became industry standards during that time, or they were too good to pass up. If some of these sound like rehashes from earlier columns, it is only because these are (in some cases, at least) the facts behind my fictions.
And so, without more talk, the awards:
BUG OF THE YEAR: This one goes, without competition, to the address book in Software Publishing’s PFS: Professional Write. This simple database has a 256 record limit, which seems adequate for an accessory to a low-end word processor. Unfortunately, there is no way to know how many records you have entered, so you cannot tell when you’re approaching the maximum. And what does it tell you when you’ve hit the 256th address? Absolutely nothing! Rather than hurt your feelings, the program blithely allows you to keep entering data which is chucked into never-never land as you type it. Software Publishing hopes to have this fixed with the next update.
BEST BETA TEST (FROM THE PUBLISHER’S POINT OF VIEW): Microsoft wins this one for their pre-release handling of OS/2. It used to be that the beta tester was doing the publisher a favor for which he or she would be awarded a free copy of the completed program. Not anymore. Instead, MicroSoft charged major developers three thousand dollars a piece for the privilege of examining their new operating system. Opinions from these VIBTs (Very Important Beta Testers) are mixed as to whether OS/2 is the industry’s next Gone with the Wind or Heaven’s Gate.
THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL AWARD FOR THE RIGHT HAND NOT KNOWING WHAT THE LEFT ONE IS DOING: Again, this one goes to the above-mentioned pre-release packages of OS/2. Although the program was announced in conjunction with the release of the IBM PS/2 computers, initial copies arrived exclusively on 5 1/4" disks that could fit into the new machines only after adjustments with a pair of scissors.
MOST TYPICAL BEHAVIOR BY A SALES REPRESENTATIVE: I will not mention the salesman by name (I have lost his card) nor will I tell you what company he represented. He told me, however, that a particular laser printer is "fifty times faster." When I asked what seemed to me an obvious question, "Fifty times faster than what?", the poor man looked completely out of his depth. He apologized, told me he was not a technician, and suggested I contact his technical support department.
THE LEMMINGS FOLLOW IBM AWARD FOR THE MOST STUPID DESIGN TO BECOME A STANDARD: This one goes, hands down and sore fingers, to the new "enhanced" keyboards. Although introduced by Big Blue in ’86, it wasn’t until this year that everyone jumped on the bandwagon. Today, it is nearly impossible to find a really powerful DOS-based machine on which one can use the WordStar diamond or touchtype function keys. Although these keyboards have become the defacto standard, I have not talked to one person who prefers these to the original AT layout.
OUTSTANDING EXAMPLE OF AN IMPORTANT FACT TOLD OFFHANDEDLY: DBXL, WordTech’s inexpensive dBASE clone, requires 455k of free memory. This is a considerable amount and anyone with a fondness for RAM-resident programs will find this limiting and possibly a reason to look at the competition. Do they tell you this on the outside of the package so you CAN take this fact into consideration when you decide if you want the product? No. Do they tell you in the installation instructions? Again, no. You have to go to the README file on disk (by which time you have opened the disk envelope and the product is not returnable) to find out this vital piece of information.
THE JOHNNY B: DRIVE AWARD FOR THE BEST USE OF COMPUTER LINGO: The master himself, Chuck Berry, apparently bought a computer to write his recently published autobiography, entitled, simply enough, The Autobiography. His flowery prose include this description of a kiss from Loretta Lynn: "Loretta will never know the software of that kiss or the double density of the program that it stored in the document of my main memory."
THE "IF I CAN’T WIN I’LL TAKE MY BALL AND GO HOME" AWARD FOR JUVENILE BEHAVIOR: This one goes to that five-year-old so adept at throwing tantrums, Lotus Development, for their ludicrous "look and feel" lawsuit against Mosaic and Paperback Software. All spreadsheets, of course, stole their look and feel from the original, VisiCalc, and Lotus was careful to buy the rights to that now-defunct program before entering the court of law. But the creators of VisiCalc sued them anyway, and Lotus, of course, has countersued. No one but the lawyers can benefit from all this.
BIGGEST JOKE OF THE YEAR: The competition seemed tight here, but in the end, there was really no contest. The IBM PS/2 model 30 leads the pack, with only the models 25 and 50 of the same line even coming close. Introduced last April 2nd (a day earlier would have been appropriate) as part of the next generation of personal computers, the model 30 is nothing but an overpriced XT clone, lacking even the new microchannel bus that is supposed to make the PS/2 so revolutionary. Nevertheless, IBM touted this as a technological breakthrough because of its smaller footprint (like the Epson Equity and several others), 3 1/2" disk drives (the same as in all laptops), faster clock speed (brought up to match everyone else’s), 640k on the motherboard (ditto) and a lower price tag (still the highest in its class). Perhaps I’m being unfair comparing it to the competition; after all, their fronts’ are not adorned with the magic three letters.
And thus ends this year’s Friday Awards. No doubt I have missed a few, and to those companies and individuals who feel that they were left out I most humbly apologize.
To rest of you, have a happy holiday season and I’ll see you (or, to be more accurate, you’ll see me) next year.