The managing editor of Hardware Central offers his IT winners and losers for 2002.
Few of us would call 2001 a good year, and all of us would gladly trade an even
worse recession or high-tech slump for a cosmic Control-Z to undo the tragedies
of September 11. But there were highs as well as lows here at Hardware Central.
Plenty of cool products reached the Labs, Weather, & Sports Desk -- from
Microsoft's latest IntelliMo
to HP's Color
Inkjet Printer cp1160
, from powerful desktops to desktop alternatives like
(and notebook alternatives like the AlphaSmar
). Ditto for software, ranging from the best Windows ever to a $27
word processor called Atlantis Ocean Mind
And plenty of trends made the year memorable. Here's a recap, with my best
wishes for bright holidays and a happy year ahead.
Winners of the year: Peripheral shoppers, as LCD monitors fell below
$500; fast monochrome laser printers and versatile color ink-jet
printer/scanner/copiers fell below $250; and photo-quality ink-jet printers
became practically free.
Losers of the year: The dial-up majority -- analog modem users who
continue to be teased by DSL and cable Internet-access ads that mask limited
availability or delivery nightmares, while the industry's talking heads take
broadband for granted.
Collapse of the year: In terms of business, dot-com service
providers. In terms of caving, folding, wimping out, taking a dive after
winning 14 rounds: U.S. Justice Department vs. Microsoft.
Not quite consumer products after all: PDAs beat a retreat upmarket,
with most handheld vendors following Microsoft's Pocket PC pitch to corporate
execs with $500-plus budgets. Let's see if Handspring's Treo leads a move back
toward the mainstream with cell phone/PDA combos in 2002.
Bitter pills of the year: 2001 brought two blatant insults or
confusing inconveniences, moves unabashedly meant to serve vendors' marketing
needs instead of consumers' interests. But any backlash or protest fizzled, as
we swallowed them in order to get (I admit) otherwise excellent products. What
were they? The PR ratings of AMD's Athlon XP, and Product Activation in
Microsoft Windows XP.
Comeback of the year: ATI, although the company nearly blew it by not
nailing the Radeon 8500 drivers on the first try. Coincidentally, PC graphics
overdog Nvidia showed ...
Cracks in the armor, generating big buzz about its nForce integrated
chipset, only to ship it months late with a disappointingly outdated GeForce2
MX graphics core. The formerly unflappable Nvidia also botched a bid to
undermine ATI's Radeon 7500/8500 announcement with a prerelease of new GeForce
drivers, but got back on track with the sizzling GeForce3 Ti 500 and 200.
Say bye-bye: Transmeta. It's hard to sell mobile CPUs when (a.) Intel
whips up low-voltage Pentium IIIs that virtually match your ballyhooed energy
savings and (b.) you can't actually ship product.
Glass that looked half-full last year, half-empty this year: Linux
hype and vendors crashed to earth, just in time for Windows XP to kick dirt in
their faces. Actually, Linux made strides in 2001, going strong on servers and
showing impressive desktop progress with Mandrake 8.1, SuSE 7.3, and KDE 2.2.1,
but now it's handicapped by a dot-com-bust, last-year's-bandwagon image as well
as the self-defeating "Linux community" -- if the theosophist hippies don't
repel you, the command-line macho men will.
Repeal Moore's Law?
The elephant in the room, or problem the PC
industry is pretending isn't there, reached consumer consciousness this year
and will be bigger still in 2002: For at least two years, our ever-faster, more
powerful PCs and processors have been pulling away from our applications.
It's fun to watch the Intel/AMD arms race, but nobody needs a 2.0GHz
computer to run Word and Excel -- and blaming slow tech sales on the "new
economy" crash or 9/11 only postpones the development of either a compelling
new use for CPU cycles or a radical redesign of the 20-year-old PC. (And no, I
don't mean the clipboard "tablet PC" that's existed for years and shows no
signs of breaking out of its vertical market niche, even if it is a bee in Bill
Segway-level hype for a $399 MP3 player: Lovely to look at, adored by
obsessive fans, attracts breathless headlines with every move, pretty
insignificant in terms of real-world results -- I'd hoped in April that the
attractive, not-overpriced iBook signaled a new attitude, but it seems Apple is
content to be the Anna Kournikova of the computer industry.
Product of the year runner-up: AMD Athlon XP. Hate the model numbers;
wish it ran a little cooler and would move to 0.13 micron a little quicker;
wish AMD wasn't tarred with the brush of third parties' rough-around-the-edges
chipsets; but gotta love the price/performance.
Product of the year: The trend in 2001 was for formerly unattainable
productivity at value prices, and the best example is the Intel 845 chipset --
partly its original SDRAM version, and especially this week's faster DDR
Am I crazy, or begging for flame mail from AMD fanboys? Neither -- I'm
honoring a solution that sparked one of the few sales booms in a PC bust, and
that brought the Pentium 4 down from its artifically overpriced aerie to the
mass market, meshing with Intel's rapid ramp-up of the CPU's clock speed to
create a platform both businesses and consumers (except maybe 98th-percentile
performance gamers) could appreciate.
You think Pentium 4 desktops cost too much? So did I, when they were only
available with RDRAM. You complain that the P4's architecture does less work
per clock cycle than the P-III's? So did I, when the chip debuted at 1.3GHz.
You jeer the i845D because it uses PC2100 memory (DDR333 support comes next
summer) and Sys
Mark 2001 benchmarks prove it to be 3.2% slower than the expensive
i850? Fine; go sulk while consumers enjoy great PC bargains.
Worst TV commercials of the year: Intel went from the Blue Men to
animated space aliens. Can't these people buy a decent ad?
Eric Grevstad is Hardware
Central's managing editor. A former editor in chief of Home Office
Computing and editor of Computer Shopper, he's been covering PCs and
peripherals since leaving the liberal arts for TRS-80 and Apple II magazines in
the early '80s.