Reflections of a ModemJunkie

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Don't Wait for the Fat Lady

by Leonard Grossman

December, 1996

Includes review of the Opera Browser

[Latest update: January, 2001: Opera 6.0 is now available. See my review and additional comments in the January 2001 edition of the ModemJunkie]

[Update: January, 2000: Opera 3.61 is now available. This amazing software continues to improve. Now handles many plugins, Java, Javascript, CSS and much more. ]

[News Update 8/14/97 10:40:08: The long awaited Version 3.0 of Opera is due to be released shortly. You can take advantage of the old price by registering v 2.12 before 3.0 is released. Go to the new Opera Software home page for more information.]

My original review follows:

A few weeks ago I decided I needed to slow down. There was simply too much input. Too much in my face. I read the NY Times every morning and scan the virtual NY Times before I go to bed. I log on to the Internet and check the Reuters news several times a day and sometimes during the night. I listen to NPR in the morning and sometimes listen to News Radio 78 every on the hour in the late afternoon.

But then last week I found an opera I that really satisfied a need. It restored my faith. It gave me hope for the future. Was this a masterpiece by Mozart? or some sublime Bach? No! it was Opera, the software. This new browser from Norway is amazing proof that software doesn't have to get bigger, fatter, bloated. If you are running Windows, this is worth your while.

The compressed file is less than one meg. Smaller than even the early editions of Netscape. The software still has some bugs but it offers a lot of promise. It is thoughtfully designed with a host of features left out of Netscape and Internet Explorer. In addition to nearly full keyboard control, it has an amazing zoom function which lets you control the size of the text AND images on the fly. You can reduce the page as much as 50% or increase it by 400%. A distinct advantage for the visually impaired (and bleary eyed nightsurfers). It also permits turning on and off image loading in an instant and is customizable in many other ways.

You can get further infomation about Opera and download the latest evaluation copy on their home page and find more comments on mine. Don't wait for the fat lady to sing. This Opera is slim and trim. Grab a copy and evaluate it as soon as you can. If you have problems be sure to send tech support a note. There is a link on their page. The creators of Opera deserve our support. As long as independent writers create software like this the big boys will have to stay on their toes. Opera may never achieve the market share or a Netscape or IE, but, hopefully it will find its niche.

As the holidays fast approach (Hanukkah will have passed before you see this), thoughts go to what new toys are on the market for computer junkies. Although the reports are barely in from Las Vegas (Comdex) as I write, it seems as though there are a few innovations around the corner. A new series of chips from Intel. 56 kbps modems. But these won't be here until at least January. And the changes they represent will be incremental.

It doesn't seem as though there is much new for the holidays. Last year we went to multi-x cd-roms, added Internet access, new speakers, zip drives. This year each of those have improved slightly but there is not much in the way of really new toys for us to play with . . . and things are getting smaller.

The hottest thing coming out of Comdex seems to be the new pocket sized PIMs (personal information managers) or PDAs (personal digital assistants) The press talks about great leaps forward from last year's Zaurus and Psion machines. Most of them are running on Microsoft's new CE software. The amazing thing about this is that the software is described as a "stripped down" Windows 95. Until now microsoft never stripped anything except my wallet.

I even participated in a focus group for Texas Instrument's new pocket machine. It was fun to see the actual advertising that hit the papers a week or so ago. It seems they were actually listening.

But I can't get really excited. The PIMs might make great stocking stuffers, but spend my own money... nah!! That's easy for me to say. Last year I went berserk trying to decide, during the Federal Shutdown, whether to buy a Sharp Wizard (I even bought it - returned it- and bought it again). I got it at a great price from a forsale newsgroup. I just had to have it. Every month I attend a meeting of community volunteers. And everyone pulls out their PIMs and sets them in front of their seats on the table.

I loved it at first. I practiced taking notes, typing with my thumbs. But where am I supposed to carry it? It fits, barely, into my inside jacket pocket, but the effect is worse the heavy pocket radio I insisted on carrying in the early 80s. I remember the worn linings in my suit jackets. And where do you put it if you don't wear a jacket?

Women can carry them in their purses. I have tried carrying a little leather pouch. But I haven't been trained to remember it. So now it sits in a brief case dedicated to community affairs and I see it once or twice a month.

The other watchword now, more than ever, is speed. Speed SPEED!

For those of us who were doing quite well with 12 megahertz 286s just a few years a go, the idea of 200 MHz clock speeds seems dizzying. But, of course since the new software has to do so much just to put a character on the screen, we really don't see much improvement.

The other night I was visiting a friend who is using a 486/66. I wanted to show a new feature on my web page and logged on using his new 33.6 modem. Surprise, the pages loaded more slowly than they do on my old 386 pawnshop special. The difference: configuration and RAM.

The lesson: If you are running a 386, this may be the time to move up (although I intend to hold out a little longer). Go straight to a Pentium, the cost differential is becoming minimal. If you are already at the 486/66 level it might (just might) be worth moving to a Pentium, but if you are on a budget, look into adding memory on your old machine. If you are already running a Pentium, look to adding RAM before even thinking about getting a faster chip. RAM is cheap right now. I thought it was cheap when I added 8 meg last summer, now it costs about half as much.

The only problem is RAM doesn't look very impressive under the tree.

OTOH, Perhaps you can convince your significant other to give you some, if you promise NOT to sing, "Thanks for the Memory."

For more on speed, see my earlier article, "The Corner Garage "

Copyright 1996, 1997, 1999, 2001 Leonard Grossman

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Original article written12/19/96 7:42:58 PM

Upated: January 6, 2001

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