The Well Tempered Desktop
This page describes the Well Tempered Desktop -- the hardware, and mainly the software, that is more or less the minimum configuration that folks need to have on their desktop in order to fully exploit the potentials of emerging information systems. Additional stuff that is needed for website construction and maintenance is inventoried on the Cyber Tools page. This page is under continuous development, and your comments and suggestions to the CyberStrategy Project are most welcome.
Our rating system is as follows:
Yes -- Looks like a good bet
Questionable -- not a front runner right now
No - don't bother -- has some obvious problems
The new capabilities offered by current state-of-the-art
computers will provide significant improvements in organizational
capabilities. Over time, "computationally challenged" organizations will
increasingly lose comparative advantage in the competition for
effectiveness (and therefor funding). Most of our older computers can no longer be upgraded further, and require replacement. They are simply inadequate to the challenges and opportunities at hand, all of which require effective operation in a Windows environment.
Many current machines either are incapable of running Windows, or run it
very slowly. A 40 MHz 386 CPU is at least two generations behind the current standard (the 200 MHz "586" Pentium). Few people consider a 386 to be anything more than a fancy typewriter, a 486 is a minimum, a pentium with Windows 95 is standard (except for those of us who are Mac holdouts and believe that a 8100/100 PowerPC is the machine of the future.)
||200-MHz Pentium Pro
||16 MB of SDRAM
||32 MB of SDRAM
||64 MB of EDORAM
||1.6/3.2 GB Tape
||2 MB DRAM
||2 MB EDO
||4 MB VRAM
||Altec Lansing ACS90
||APC BackOffice 250VA
||33.6 US Robotics
- We are currently using 100 MHz Pentium Dell Dimension XPS with 16 MB or RAM as our standard hardware platform. They don't make machines this slow any more, but we like Dell, and if you are in the market for a new box I don't think you can go too far wrong by checking out the Dell Dimension XPS series.
- Most of these boxes have anywhere from 1 to 3 gigs of disk storage, and we are finding that you can't get a hard drive that is too large. The Dells are particularly nice since the installation of the new hard drive is fairly straightforward.
- We are migrating toward 32 MB of RAM, since this seems to be the next most cost-effective upgrade [apart from larger hard drives] to improve the performance of these machines. The extra 16 MB of RAM is going for about a hundred bucks, and this should solve a lotta the nasty disk thrashing we have seen due to the Windoze virtual memory manager swapping files from RAM to disk. The place to go for RAM seems to be The Chip Merchant
- We use 28.8 kbps modems from US Robotics, both the basic Sportster, which now comes factory installed from Dell, and the more expensive Courier.
These modems comply with the V.34 28800bps standard which was approved in 1994. Additional information on modems is at CURT'S High Speed Modem Page, with additional pointers at Yahoo
- We use both older Hewlett-Packard LaserJet II 300 dpi laser printers, which continue to provide excellent service after nearly a decade of use, as well as the newer LaserJet 4+ printer, which is faster and provides 600 dpi output.
- We use the older [they don't make them any more] Hewlett-Packard Scanjet 3c scanner for optical character recognition for document management, as well as for graphics applications.
Its hard to imagine, but back in the old daze if you had some app on your desktop in addition to a word processor you were a real power user, and now its hard to avoid a situation in which your desktop is so cluttered with apps that you can't even remember what half this stuff is supposed to do, even.
This stuff is not for everyone, and you may have your own special list [please send us your suggestions] but these are a few of our own personal favorites, and are illustrative of the sorta stuff that is out there these daze.
The problem you gotta wrap yourself around is that although your desktop kinda looks like a typewriter with a small TV set, in reality if you could hop into a time machine and go blast to the past, say the sixties, your lil ole desktop would probably be about the most powerful computer ever known to western civilization -- putting even the mighty supercomputers [of the time] to shame [and if not, you gotta go get yourself a new desktop, cause the times they are a changin]. What this means, in dog years, is that there are now a whole bunch of utilities that you need, both for the care and feeding of your computer [its your friend, and if you take care of it, it will take care of you, one way or the other], as well as for just sorta generally doing business here in the technological vastness of the future [its electric, so live it or live with it...].
Optical Character Recognition
- OmniPage Limited Edition 4.0 from Caere works pretty good for us much of the time, though there are some documents the thing just flat out refuses to recognize, even though the text is pretty clean. Their current flagship release is OmniPage Pro 7.0 which they claim, using Quadratic Neural Network TM (QNN) technology, will more accurately improve recognition accuracy on a broad range of page, from clean to degraded. However, the most significant accuracy improvement is claimed to be found using faxes, photocopies, or low-resolution scans. Current owners of any Caere OCR product (including all versions of OmniPage or WordScan purchased by themselves or bundled with a scanner) are eligible to upgrade to OmniPage Pro for Windows 95 for $129.
- NeuroTalker OCR from International Neural Machines is said to thrive on the kinds of documents--faxes and low-contrast pages--that give other OCR programs fits. NeuroTalker uses INM's proprietary Genetically Enhanced Neural Network Identification Engine (GENIE) to decrypt pages of text with high accuracy. This gizmo is fast, powerful and inexpensive, but it lacks ease of use. List Price: $99
- Starfish's Dashboard 95 single control panel for all the resources of Windows 95 - maybe not the best, but it comes bundled with Corel PerfectOffice
- Norton Navigator - the best of the lot, but $99 may be a bit much for this sorta thing.
- RegClean is a free utility from Microsoft that should be used every few weeks to clean up obsolete Registery entries
Views and Converters
- File Utilities / Word for Word(R), available from Adobe for Windows(R) 3.1, Windows 95, Macintosh(R), DOS, and UNIX(R), quickly converts word processing, spreadsheet, database, and graphics files to and from applications. Word for Word automatically recognizes more than 250 Windows, Macintosh, DOS, and UNIX formats as well as HTML, while preserving the formatting and layout of the original documents. And for a mere $149 it sounds like a must have.
- Colorado Memory Systems,a division of Hewlett-Packard, is the leading supplier of minicartridge tape drives in the world.
You need to keep at least 100 MB of space free on the drive [normally the C drive] used as the swap drive by Windows for virtual memory management [in which files are moved in and out of RAM as they are needed]. Utilities are useful for finding and deleting surplus files to keep your drive from filling up with useless files, among other nice things.
- DiskMapper for the PC produces a
schematic representation of your hard drive. While viewing your drive map, you can get a close-up view of any subdirectory. Just click on the "Zoom" button. DiskMapper will zoom you in to the contents of the subdirectory and fill up your screen with a more detailed view.DiskMapper can be purchase online for $39.95
- UNINSTALLER 4 from Microhelp makes it easy to free up disk space, and is said to be more careful than the competition. PC Labs' testing showed that both CleanSweep 95 and Remove-It 95 offered to remove from Windows some essential dynamic link library (.DLL) files and OLE server applications. Of the three programs tested, only MicroHelp's Uninstaller 3.0 did not offer to remove any crucial Windows files.In addition to Deleting single or groups of applications, UnInstaller 4 can Archive seldom used
applications; Move them to another place on your computer, or Transport them to another PC. Retails for $39.95.
- WinProbe 95 is a system utility gizmo and CleanSweep 95 is an uninstaller from Quarterdeck -- the CleanSweep seems to be the most agressive [and thus most hazardous] of the lot.
- Remove-It - one of the handful of products on the market, with nothing remarkable one way or the other.
- WinDelete 3.0 - the least expensive and least effective.
For transmission over the net or otherwise, large files are sometimes compressed, using the ZIP, tar, gzip, z, arc, arj, and lzh or some other compression technique, not to mention all those pesky Internet file formats (UUencode, XXencode, BinHex, MIME, and Unix compress).. You need a gizmo to compress [and more frequently] uncompress such files.
- WinZip 6.2 from Nico Mak computing is simple and easy to use, and has a list price of only $29.
- Norton AntiVirus 2.0 for Windows 95 from Symantec detects, elminates and repairs damage from viruses and Word macros. Live Update periodically combs their Web site for updates and new virus definitions, and even downloads and installs them for you automatically. Available at an estimated retail price (ERP) of $70. The only problem is that it isn't too clear how this functionality differs from that of the Norton Utilities.
- PC World [June 1996] rated VirusScan as their best buy, with Norton, Dr. Solomon's and IBM AntiVirus close runners-up, and suggested that PC-cillin and ThunderByte were probably not so hot.
As we are recommending the latest version of Netscape as our web browser of
choice, the helper applications listed below should also be looked at. You can download most of these cheap or free from the Netscape site. These utilities are invoked by Netscape when it encounters a specfic file
type such as a sound, image, or movie file. If you do not have the
extension installed as a Netscape extension, the file will not be able to
be read. Some of the current Netscape extensions we use are:
- We are currently using the 3.01 commercial versions of NetScape which can be downloaded from their site. Unlike the situation with prior beta releases, this build does not expire, and the only thing that you are purchasing by buying it is technical support, so if you just want the browser, its free as far as we can see.
- We will certainly migrate to the Netscape Communicator 4.0 as soon as they have a stable build sometime in mid-1997.
- BrowserWatch is the leading site for information about browsers, plug-ins and ActiveX controls.
- Jayfar's Survey is one site that hosts browser profiles.
Some non-trivial fraction of this stuff can be downloaded as shareware, which means you can try it for free for a while, and then if you like it you send the author a few dozen bucks for their trouble. In other cases, these sites provide downloads of time-limited or otherwise somewhat impaired demonstrations of the software. The major sources of shareware include:
- We are currently using the Eudora Pro 3.0 e-mail application
which provides interoperability between Macintoshes and PCs across TCP/IP
networks such as the Internet. This is no-kidding the best thing going, and you are wasting your time and energy if you aren't using it.
- Pointcast is the Internet news network that appears
instantly on your computer screen, including US and international news from sources like CNN, Time magazine, Reuters, PR Newswire, the LA Times, New York Times, Boston Globe, San Jose Mercury News, Wired, Chicago Tribune, Miami Herald and Philadelphia Online
Maintained by John Pike
Updated Monday, December 30, 1996