by David Parry
Englishman David Parry lived in Tokyo from 1980 to 1994 and was a member of TPC from 1986. A frequent contributor to this publication, he was Newsletter Publisher from late 1988 to early 1990 and began the Ionic Column in 1992. This column has won a prize and an honorable mention in newsletter awards. To the Tokyo BBS community, he now lives in virtual cyberspace and teleports textually over the ether. On the physical level, he currently lives and works in Düsseldorf, that part of Germany that most resembles Japan.
It was time again to head out in the chill Rhenish dawn and to head into the chill Hanoverian mists in the double-decker Panzerbus. The CeBIT 96 trip was under way, organized by a local bookshop, and I was all agog to explore the brave new European computing world. As agog as one can be after starting at 07:00, anyway.
Hanover is spelt with a double 'n' in English, for some reason, but I'll stick to the English version for the sake of my readers and my ever-vigilant spelling checker. One 'n' or two, Hanover was still very much in the grip of winter, with small patches of snow visible even just outside the show grounds, and betraying a Siberian influence. Or was it a portent? This year CeBIT had a number of exhibitors from eastern Europe.
CeBIT is the premier computer show in Europe, and it must be said that it is too big. I jetted down the aisles with a quick glance to left and right, stopped as briefly and as infrequently as I could, stopped for brief nourishment only, and still only covered six halls out of a total of 19 in 7 1/2 hours. It's big. The halls are bigger than those at Harumi, and the Data Show seemed to shrink a bit after about 1990, as I recall.
There are sections in CeBIT that are frankly irrelevant, with two halls devoted to banking and financial products. I passed through fairly large sections in two of the halls that i covered which were devoted to products specifically for biggish companies or government administration, one hall was primarily dedicated to computer-aided manufacturing, and some of the networking and telecommunications displays were for hard-core devotees only. (I had no time for the latter this year, unlike last time.) But if you took those away, you still have more than ten large halls—each as big or bigger than the big dome at Harumi—or the mainstream products. It's too much! Nor were they grouped very logically. Nor do you get a leaflet that gives a meaningful overview; you either get a sketchy map (free) or have to fork out for a heavy and bulky directory.
But what was there? This time I concentrated on software, but excluding network-related products. I covered the halls that featured all the big-name vendors, who were mainly selling their hardware. I merely glanced at them, and can confirm that there were no really interesting costumes this year. The Olympia stand featured a refugee apiece from Starlight Express and Cats, and later in the day I saw a sweet young thing standing on a chair and having her legs painted in black and white in readiness for her presentation. I debated whether to offer gentlemanly help, with the emphasis on the manly, but chickened out.
Back to computers, you say? If you insist. My first port of call was Deutsche Telekom, monopolistic purveyor of over-priced telecommunications services to a long-suffering and distinctly unhappy German public. This was my first chance to put all kinds of nasty questions to the poor things manning and womanning the booths. I was polite, but I gave Telekom both barrels; what was the actual pricing of ISDN, including ad-on hardware? What was involved? How much did it costs? What about the things I had heard about Telekom being deluged with requests for help in getting ISDN up and running, and the lack of engineers with suitable knowledge? And yes, I knew all about their much-touted special offers for ISDN installations up to the end of June, but I also knew that their monopoly on the German telecommunications market expired at the end of the year, and what were the prognoses for that? I left with the feeling hat I might as well wait a bit longer, as prices could only drop, the hardware get better and cheaper, and the engineers would have more experience.
The ISDN where?
While it would be worth thinking of ISDN if I was installing two new lines -- and that would be the case if I decide to work from home, I don't see a compelling reason to change over just now. I'll wait and see what 1997 brings. I do, however, have the feeling that ISDN works well enough if you buy the right hardware and if you don't try to get too fancy with the configuration. Overall, I think that is why Richard Boomgaarden had the troubles I quoted a month or two back.
The next place I visited, coincidentally, was Polaroid. I glanced at them, wondering if screen cameras had dropped to a reasonable price yet, when my eye was caught by a display of screen filters. I was unimpressed at first, since every shop in Japan has them and the vast majority are not very effective. I used a fabric one on the amber monitor of my first PC and the coarse mesh was obtrusive, and the glass ones tend to add glare and reflections. The Polaroid one looked better. Also, the attachment method was more secure than the average, with a frame that goes all round the bezel of the monitor. I thought they would be outrageously expensive, but the one I was looking at was a much more affordable model, at just over 100 DM (about $70) for 14-inch to 15-inch monitors.
I quote from the brochure: "The circular polarizer is the key component in all Polaroid CP-Filters. And, it's the component that sets them apart from other types of anti-glare products. By combining a two layer circular polarizer with optical quality materials and multi-layer optical coating, Polaroid CP-Filters are as much as 12 times more effective in fighting computer glare than other kinds of filters. And, they're as much as 14 times more effective at enhancing contrast for better screen clarity and sharpness. The difference is immediate and dramatic." They go on to say "All sizes include an electrically conductive coating for static control and up to 98% reduction of VLF/ELF electric field radiation."
Wary as I am of these sorts of claims, I will say that the filter does a very creditable job and I will get one for myself. The Smile monitor that I have now is reasonably good at preventing glare, but I always get reflections off the windows and the lights.
Nihonjin and gaijin alike can find Nippon Polaroid in the Mori Building No. 30 in Toranomon, and, if your existing screen does not reflect too badly, surf the Net to http://www.polaroid.com.
Last year I had picked up a demo diskette for ThunderByte anti-virus software which I reviewed last year. This year I looked in vain for ThunderByte, but I ran into a couple of rivals. Dr. Solomon had a booth, from which I extracted a brochure and read swiftly while marching onwards. Rated number 1 overall in anti-virus software, and top of several categories, this was a product to consider. So what had happened to poor ThunderByte?
Not far away was the Australian section. A thought bubble must have been visible above head; since when has the rest of the world heard of anything computer-related from Australia. To quote an article from, I think, Datamation in about 1984, "the Australians think a spreadsheet is something you put on the ground for a picnic." My head full of ethnic slurs, I ambled past the booths and noticed one called "Leprechaun Software." Had I perhaps overshot and progressed in one kangaroo-like leap to Ireland? No, this was an Australian company, although the younger of the two sales reps had a very Irish look about him, nay, almost leprechaun-like.
Still pondering the Dr. Solomon leaflet, I asked sweetly if they had any comparative reviews from computer magazines. "No, we don't," came the reply, "since the tests are often misleading. They don't say which viruses they tested with, or how many, or how many false alarms there were. If you want a real-life reference, we are used by several branches of the Australian government." I pondered further: I was not aware that the Australians, governmental or otherwise, were security fanatics. But after talking with them some more, it became obvious that they were very serious about their product and on-going support, and that they were confident that it performed well in a real-world setting.
Virus Buster is produced by Leprechaun Software Pty Ltd. of P.O. Box 826, Capalaba, Queensland 4157, Australia. Software from Queensland? If the virii have not struck down your PC fax, call +61-7-3823-1233 for more info. If your browser is still in good health, try firstname.lastname@example.org. Virus Buster was quoted at around $150. Oztralian dollars, that is.
CeBIT was too big to cover in a day, or in a single column. Stay tuned for part two.
Next month: more of CeBIT, including: building a better mouse (no trap); competition for Lantastic; Maxed out on Qualitas; from Russia with software; and, Bitstream lives! In a future column, I will also comment on machine translation software.
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