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The End of the Millennium

It is traditional for journalists (or, in my case, pundits) to look back on the past year. Now, however, is a chance unique in my lifetime (I presume) to look back on an entire millennium. For those of you who doubt that, here’s a simple chart: And, no, Dionysius Exiguous, who invented our current calendar, did not start it with the year zero. Not only would that have been stupid, but more importantly, he created our current calendar in approximately 525 A.D., and the Western World didn’t start using zero until about the year 820 A.D. Don’t bother writing to me about this. History rules, and you can’t change it by yelling.

Anyway, looking back on the about-to-pass Millennium would be pretty boring. Most of us don’t care about stuff that happened 85 or 95 years ago. And frankly, most of it’s not relevant to a computer magazine (except, of course, Nikola Tesla). So, let’s take a look at our more immediate past.

There have been some interesting trends over the past couple of years. Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) have just skyrocketed in popularity. You can’t swing a cat in a meeting without hitting one these days. I see a lot of Palm OS-based PDAs (I personally have a Handspring Visor – love it!), but not a lot of WinCE machines. It’s kind of funny to watch the geeks try to out-PDA each other. And, of course, we can’t help carrying our religious wars with us; not just between the Palm OS and WinCE crews, but now we’re going to get the Linux crowd involved with the Yopy and it’s ilk. Spare me! Lucky thing for all these manufacturers that Apple didn’t stick with the Newton!

Peer-to-peer networking rose and fell. Lots of folks used AppleTalk networking, Windows for Workgroups networking, and LANtastic to create peer-to-peer networks for their small businesses and homes. Peer-to-peer networks have no central server – every machine serves every other machine (all machines are peers on the network), and can share both files and printers. Toward the end of the Millennium, we took peer-to-peer to the Internet, first through the rise and fall of Napster and Scour, and now through things like Gnutella and its kin. Peer-to-peer isn’t new; just the distance from which we let people wander around inside our hard drives.

And this sharing (read: "theft") of music and other ideas isn’t new. It’s been going on all through history – it’s just easier now. But just because it’s convenient doesn’t make it right. Information doesn’t really want to be free, you know. Information doesn’t "want" anything. It’s people who don’t "want" to pay for someone else’s talent and hard work. If you want to steal, go ahead. Just have the honesty to call yourself a thief.

The stock market has given us a 10-year joy ride. For some people, ten years is eternity, and they’re a little porked off that the market seems to be "correcting" itself now. What I find interesting are the people who panic. "Oh, my God! Microsoft stock dropped 20 points! Should I run Linux?" Ummm… whether or not Microsoft’s stock tanks, if Windows does what you need and want, why dump it?

On the other hand, Linux is very cool. I’ve been running it for a while now. Yes, there are frustrations, but that’s mainly because there are things I just don’t know how to do until I learn them. We forget how hard DOS and Windows 3.1 were to learn. Linux has a learning curve, too.

I took a challenge recently. I used Linux for a week exclusively. The only Windows program I missed was Dreamweaver. And Eudora certainly makes life more convenient than any other email program I’ve ever used. But I could definitely function in Linux, and more than function – it was as easy to use (once I got used to its foibles) as Windows. The things it still lacks are the huge array of programs available under Windows, and easy installation for all the programs that are available.

And let’s not rule out Apple! Even though they’ve lost some very good folk to the PDA market and to Eazel, they’ve still got a huge number of incredibly innovative people (If only some of them worked in marketing).

But enough about the past – it’s also traditional for pundits to look ahead. I’m afraid I don’t see anything that isn’t blindingly obvious to the rest of you, but I get to put it into print. I think, in the next Millennium, the Internet will insinuate itself into every aspect of our lives, but only if we get past the security problems. I also think, as that happens, operating systems companies will have a harder time convincing us that they matter. After all, if you do almost everything over the Internet through a browser, email program, and a few other tools, who cares what operating system you’re running?

For years I’ve said that Microsoft is following in the footsteps of IBM. But maybe that’s the wrong analogy. Maybe it’s time to start comparing Microsoft to the railroads. For many years of this century they ruled this country. Then airplanes came in – a faster and farther-reaching way to do the same stuff railroads do. Railroads became hard-pressed to maintain their relevancy in the newer, faster world.

Let’s hope that Microsoft finds a better solution to their problems than the railroads did. But whatever happens, it’ll happen in the next Millennium. See you there!

Nick Francesco is the owner of and a publicly-known (and vocal) Rochester computer expert. <NF

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