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Nashville Scene Net New Year

Speed, software, gadgets on the way for 1999

By James Hanback Jr.

JANUARY 11, 1999:  For years, writers and filmmakers have depicted the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st as an age in which humanity is swamped in technology. Electric cars riding on air populate the skies. People have relinquished their more menial daily tasks to androids and other robotic creatures.

Instead of the visions in H.G. Wells' The Shape of Things To Come, or the sleek technological imagery mixed with the mad scientist that is depicted in the silent film Metropolis, we have found ourselves just now on the verge of creating new devices that will do exactly what technology is supposed to do: make our lives easier.

The coming year is already full of promises: Apple plans to release Mac OS X, the operating system that will combine traditional Mac OS technology with technology developed from Apple's former next-generation project Rhapsody. Microsoft is planning the release of Office 2000, which promises voice recognition, among other new features. Both Netscape and Microsoft are planning the release of their version 5.0 Internet suites.

It's going to be a busy year.

For the past two years, the first quarter for many computer manufacturers has meant the release of newer, faster computers, and 1999 will be no exception. Last year heralded the introduction of 300mhz and faster processors.

Intel is already planning the early 1999 release of the Katmai, a 500mhz Pentium II processor. By mid-1999, it expects to completely change its chip manufacturing methods in favor of methods which make chips thinner and, therefore, faster. Speeds of 600mhz are expected by summer.

Likewise, peripheral manufacturers like Iomega have already announced new and improved versions of favorite products like the Zip drive, the newest of which accepts Zip disks of 250MB capacity, as well as the old 100MB format.

As for software, the Web browser war isn't the only area in which Microsoft will face stiff competition in 1999. The release date of Windows 2000, the operating system which will finally make the Windows NT environment Microsoft's flagship consumer and business network operating system, is at best unknown, but probably will not occur until late 1999 or early 2000, if history is any indication.

Meanwhile, Apple Computer's Mac OS X (the "X" is "10," by the way) is set to take control of Macintosh desktops by mid-1999 (combined with a sleek new iMac-ish look for the company's G3 desktop), and the Unix-like Linux OS is certainly grabbing a firm hold on business networking.

The marketplace appears to have seen a ground swell in support of the OS. According to some recent research in a story at www.abcnews.com, Linux shipments grew more than 200 percent in 1998.

Microsoft, while still dominating the operating system market, will probably find itself losing some ground in 1999. The company's current legal woes, mixed with a tarnished reputation in the industry, will be key to a more diverse, more robust, and more innovative OS market for the coming millenium.

What have we forgotten? Why, the Internet, of course. In 1998 we saw the Net grow from a largely entertainment/informational arena to a full-fledged news source and commercially successful business enterprise. Those of us who didn't login to view the Kenneth Starr Report, the launch of Space Shuttle Discovery, or the Iraq air strikes, at least purchased one Christmas gift through an online store.

So what's up with the Net in 1999? Probably a continued growth of what we've already seen. More businesses doing business online; a greater emphasis on the protection of sensitive data on insecure Internet-connected networks. What else? Who knows?

In spite of all the expected advancements in the computer industry for 1999, the one thing we can't see, but must count on, are the unexpected innovations that change the course of computing forever.

Sometime in 1999, someone may develop the 1999 equivalent of the 1984 Macintosh and ignite a new revolution for the information age. It may be something for which we've all been longing, or it may be something which no one could ever have guessed we could use. Perhaps someone will discover or invent an all-purpose Y2K shield.

In any case, it will happen.

It's bound to happen.

And when it does, we'll all party like... well, we're going to hear that joke often enough this year without my repeating it here.

The defeat of Y2K

Social Security checks, at least, will arrive on time and to whom they're supposed to go in 12 months, when 1999 becomes 2000.

The Y2K bug, the computer bug that causes some older computers and software to treat the year 2000 as the year 1900, won't affect the Social Security Administration, according to a Dec. 28 announcement by President Clinton.

"The Social Security system is now 100 percent compliant with our standards and safeguards for the year 2000," Clinton said.

Officials added that at least 2,800 workers (including 700 programmers) undertook the project of making the Social Security system Y2K compliant.

The president has said in the past that all critical federal systems should be Y2K compliant by March 31.

To reach James, e-mail him at jhanback@nashvillescene.com.

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