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ARCHIVED  November 1, 1995

Technology’s din

Some call it technomania.

The fact is it’s a technological jungle out there for those who want to purchase a new computer system, upgrade an old system or shop for a new computer for the first time.

New products are entering the market faster than the speed of light with enough memory to store the records of the city of Chicago. These new high-speed boxes can do spreadsheets, run accounting programs, prepare taxes, make airline reservations, offer college classes at home, e-mail to distant countries and do almost anything short of getting the kids ready for school and making the coffee.

But, with all new technology comes a little downtime for people trying to figure out which system to buy.

For most people, whether working at home or running a small business, the computer world is a maze of confusing jargon, a jumble of software and a tangled web of random access memory, or RAM.

And don’t expect any help from computer manuals. These books were meant to repair the warp drive on a starship and say things like, “When there is a core breach – maintain the stability of the dilithiam crystals, which should rotate counter-clockwise to the core itself in conjunction with the RAM.”

Even with all the confusion, people are running out willy-nilly to buy the newest, hottest, latest and fastest computer on the market.

“It is just a ridiculous market out there now because everyone is making boxes – there are tons of boxes,´ said Rob Sireno, outside sales representative for Micro Computer World in Fort Collins. And tons of people are buying those boxes.

Sireno describes this as the lemming effect. “Everyone wants what they have heard about or what’s popular,” he said. “Many programs and systems are just overkill.”

The best way to understand what systems are available on the market and what software is needed is to consult an expert, Sireno said.

At many computer stores, the sales staff will do an evaluation of the business or home use and recommend a computer system and the appropriate software program. This saves not only time but also money. In some cases, the current system can be upgraded and will be adequate for several years.

“You need to talk to someone reputable that you can trust,” he said.

“Some people need to upgrade because their system is so old,” he added. “Most small businesses tend to upgrade when they have to. Literally, you upgrade when you need to do something that you can’t do on your current system. The important thing to ask yourself is, ‘What do you want to do?'”

Most people need to run accounting or word-processing programs, Sireno said, and these are all things that most computers can do very easily. “About 85 percent of the people with CD-ROM never use it. Upgrade when you are forced or have to and think of why you want to upgrade,” he said.

It’s like buying a car. You decide when it’s time to upgrade your car and if you will buy a new or used car. Your needs determine the type of car you buy, what features you want and how much you will spend, Sireno said.

Depreciation on computers, however, is much worse than a car. “Five or six years ago, people spent about $2,200 on a Mac Plus,” he said. “Now they sell for about $200 or $300. But five years is a lifetime in the computer world.”

The new Power Macintosh computers sell for anywhere from $2,000 up to $10,000. They even have features for people with disabilities, including Headmaster, where the movement of your head moves the mouse, and Power Secretary, which uses voice recognition – you can talk into the computer, which writes your words. The new Pentium starts at about $1,500.

Some of the newest computers are overkill for the average business user.

The fastest and most complex computers, such as the Pentium, are used mostly by people who need to perform a variety of complex functions at one time, math calculations, for example, or by people creating graphics and using high-end design functions.

“Many people run out and buy the latest and greatest (systems), but they get a lot more than they need,´ said Stan Hjerleid, instructor at Resource Training Institute in Fort Collins. “There is a lot of advertising hype right now with the media, and it’s a cycle where you buy the new software, then it is a good excuse to upgrade your computer. Many people are using older computers at home or in the office, and if it’s doing the job for you, don’t upgrade. But if there are functions you need and don’t have, then you might need to upgrade.

“The point is, what do you want to do with the computer?”

The game market is also pushing the public into buying faster, more high-powered computers, Hjerleid said. “The kids are using computers to play games, and they need a big computer, which is driving the market,” he said, adding that this is not only a very expensive use of a computer, but people who only play games never learn to use computers. “This is just an expensive arcade,” he said.

Hjerleid agrees with Sireno that computers are not good investments if the resale value is considered a factor. “Today, you buy it, and tomorrow it is obsolete,” he said. “I like the laptops. They have a fax modem and are easy to carry. It works great for me.”

Many computer shops also offer repair services, either at the shop or close by. When buying a computer, it is important to find out how the repair record of the shop holds up. “Some of the computer discount shops don’t fix computers very fast,” Hjerleid said.

Some shops don’t have sales staff skilled in telling customers how each computer works and what features it has. Customers may end up buying systems they don’t need and paying more than they need to.

“Computer shops talk the talk, but they don’t walk the walk,” Sireno said, adding that some of the discount shops don’t offer the support that’s needed to help customers once they leave the shop with their box in tow.

Regardless of the pitfalls awaiting the consumer, the computer market is booming. It is growing so fast that most shops can barely keep up.

“This market is growing faster than any of us can keep up with it,” Hjerleid said. “I never have enough time to read all the literature.”

Many shops can’t keep enough inventory for customers to look at. “It’s hard for us to keep things in stock, because everyone wants to see the new models,” Sireno said.

The computer craze is unlikely to subside anytime soon. “The home market alone is just huge, and there is very little penetration,´ said John Hoxmeier, professor of computer science at Colorado State University. “So I don’t se any slowdown in buying the new technology. Actually, I think the boom is just beginning.”

The market is moving so fast because of the short life of the new technology and because the resale value is so low. There is only a small market for used computers. Hoxmeier said a five-year window is a good benchmark for the life of a computer, but again it depends on personal needs.

“We see a rapid increase in data communications,” he said. “Everything will have a computer in it somewhere. We are at the information ubiquity.”

And what effect will all this technology have on people who are still struggling to figure out how to run spreadsheets, do income-tax returns and type reports?

“We conjecture all the time about what effect this will have on people,” Hoxmeier said. “People are already overloaded with information. We need to learn how to turn on our information sources and how to turn them off.”

Some call it technomania.

The fact is it’s a technological jungle out there for those who want to purchase a new computer system, upgrade an old system or shop for a new computer for the first time.

New products are entering the market faster than the speed of light with enough memory to store the records of the city of Chicago. These new high-speed boxes can do spreadsheets, run accounting programs, prepare taxes, make airline reservations, offer college classes at home, e-mail to distant countries and do almost anything short of getting the kids ready for school and making the coffee.

But, with…

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