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16 March

Computer Standardization Is Critical These Days

cso“YOU GOTTA LOOK AT THIS presentation I just put together,” a colleague said over the phone. “It’s in your electronic mailbox now.” I dutifully signed on, downloaded the file, and opened it up. Kind of. It looked like a programmer had been cursing his keyboard. Lots of symbols, a few real numbers here and there–but nothing presentable. Why? It was created in freelance Graphics for Windows; I don’t have Freelance, and I use a Mac.

The holy grail for computer manufacturers and publishers is to create a proprietary system that be comes a de facto standard. The holy grail for computer users is a world without any pro prietary systems and one standard, so that any computer can read any file at any time. Chasing the grail, I’ve seen many a mirage.

When I first saw a CD-ROM demonstration nearly a decade ago (Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia), I thought that the grail was within my grasp. I thought that any computer, as long as it had a CD-ROM drive, would be able to read any disc. I was wrong.

When all the major commercial online services began allowing e-mail to and fro with Internet users, I again caught a glimmer of the grail. Before, I had to subscribe to multiple services just to make sure I wasn’t missing any business mail. But, pleasant as it is to be connected (virtually) to everyone (virtually) in the world, I am by and large restricted to deadly dull text messages. And I’m into visuals these days. There’s so much to see out there.

When the Power Mac was introduced–with all of the surrounding hype about its ability to run Windows software–I perked up. But that turned out to be a futile marketing gimmick designed more to look good at trade shows than to work on a user’s desk. True, the Mac can read Windows and DOS text files, which is nothing to sneeze at (unless you’re allergic to Bill Gates). But it ain,’t the grail.

Now, I gaze toward the Net, where all proprietary systems are being merged into one holy grail. Forget for the moment its reams of information, millions of e users, and the frontier excitement that has entrepreneurs frothing. Think of the Net as the one standard that levels the playing field and allows my computer to send any file to any other computer at any time.

First, you’ve got the programming language HTML (hypertext markup language), which allows you to establish a home page on the World Wide Web and link it to any other home page. It doesn’t matter if – you’re blinded by the midnight sun in Sweden in front of a Gateway and I’m shivering in a hut in Antarctica in front of a Power Mac–graphics are graphics.

Second, you’ve got Acrobat (Adobe Systems), software that lets you or anyone else receive and view files with graphics and typefaces that match the original file–even if you don’t own the program that created it. IBM has announced its intention to ship Acrobat’s Reader component with its computers, and Navigator, the popular World Wide Web browser, will include Acrobat technology in future editions.

Third, knowing that point-and-click access to the Web is just around the corner, publishers are making their software Web-compatible. Lotus, for example, is configuring Lotus Notes to reside on the Web. Publishers of word processors, desktop publishing, and spreadsheet programs are bound to follow. Thus, instead of signing on to a proprietary online service to download a file created with a proprietary language, as I did to get the Freelance presentation that looked like a programmer’s brain dump, I will soon be able to pull that or any other file off the Web and read it-graphics and all. A sip of wine from the grail itself.

Take it a step further.

Instead of buying proprietary hardware and-software to videoconference with a colleague who needs the same gear, why not go onto the Web and exchange voice and video there? People are already doing that, wherever they are, with whatever they’ve got. No equipment needed–beyond a highspeed modem and/or a broadband phone line. Holy GrailNet! Another droplet from the goblet.

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