What a difference a year makes. Here we all are at the end of another one, sitting around a decimated turkey (or as we like to call it the re-released Apple Newton) thinking about what was that thing we called 1996?
Well for a start it wasn't the year of the network computer (NC). Oh, how we laughed and laughed when that awfully nice man Larry Ellison tried to get some extra publicity for his database company Oracle (Oracle n.
A person or thing regarded as an infallible guide to future action - well, that's what it says in my OED) by coming up with this brilliant new idea of the diskless workstation. Ho, ho, ho, we went, pre-empting Father Christmas by some time, what a spiffing wheeze.
But then all the techies - who presumably have free time on their hands inversely proportional to their imagination - promptly grabbed a band wagon and jumped on it. And before long lunacy prevailed. And here we are all of a sudden at the end of 1996 with the Microsoft-Intel NC platform, enough Java to give China a heart attack and a telecommunications infrastructure that has trouble supporting call waiting, let alone the next generation computer.
It was the year that we gave a universal shrug at Windows 95. After the frenzy of the launch we have now settled into a sort of 'so what' era.
Windows 3.x users are hanging on as long as they can to their current software; Windows 95 users are sighing as they write cheques for more memory; and Dos users are trying to undo their nice canvas cardigans that have belts across the back.
Applications started to sport a different label where there had been the 'Windows 95 compatible' seal of approval as manufacturers desperately tried to prove how up to date and hip they were. They now had 'Windows 95 and Windows NT-compatible' seals on them. This was presumably because Microsoft had finally launched NT 4 and the applications manufacturers wanted to send signals to Microsoft that they had noticed.
Perhaps Microsoft should run adverts on the telly again - but instead of the Rolling Stones and Start Me Up it should be Led Zeppelin and Communications Breakdown. Anyway, I'm sure 1997 will be the year of NT, even if we end up buying it just to upset the NC people.
1996 was the year of fluctuating memory prices - up, then down, then up again. I don't know who was more surprised: the firms that were selling 16Mb Simms for 60 quid or the people buying 16Mb Simms for 60 quid. I'm sure I saw people who I know for a fact don't have computers buying cheap memory just for the thrill. But that's over now. It was a small break in the hostilities: we go back to full-blown warfare in 1997.
Next year will be an interesting one for Intel. This year it did a surprisingly impressive job of producing something that not only worked first time, but actually did its job as promised. Astonishing. It was the Pentium Overdrive, bless its little gold pins.
I took a crowbar to my ageing Compaq's 60MHz Pentium (no pansy ZIF sockets here) and replaced it with a 120 Overdrive and it worked straight away.
I was so confused that I took it out and did it again in case I missed something. No 'please reinstall your software' or 'not enough memory' messages here, just vroom (or as close as you can get to vroom running Windows 95 - more of a toot-toot).
I did notice one down side of this technology: bent pins. In its enthusiasm to send me an Overdrive, Intel shipped out a special model that had its pins bent right over, so with a bit of luck 1997 will be the year of the straight pin and strong carton.
And who can forget the Iomega Twins: Zip and Jaz - 1996 was definitely their year. A nice couple, very friendly and very popular, especially with journalists. I'm not sure how many punters got Zip drives but as far as I can tell every journalist in the land got at least one. Speaking as a journalist, let me tell you this is no bad thing, although the down side is there will be lots of '101 things to do with your Zip drive' features next year.
It is also interesting to note how little coverage the Compaq 120Mb drive got compared with the Zip stuff - there it is writ large, you want coverage you throw product at journalists (Ferrari, Budweiser and Sandra Bullock please note).
The 1Gb Jaz drive coverage was a little more restrained (there was probably less product to give away) but it's still a very interesting device, and, for my money better even than the Zip (but, no Iomega, you still can't have the Zip back).
One question, am I the only one who remembers when exchangeable drives were 40Mb? Iomega reckons it'll have a 2Gb Jaz in the not too distant future. This kind of progress is outrageous isn't it? If only Coronation Street and the X-Files improved that quickly.
So that's it: so much time, so little space. Which means I can't talk about IBM's voice recognition system that still can't make sense of the OS/2 marketing, the Office product from Corel that doesn't have an office in the UK, and the operating system from Apple that comes in kit form on the off-chance that the users can put it together and tell Apple how to do it.
That was 1996 - and look, I didn't mention the Internet once. Oh damn!
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