Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 144 / SEPTEMBER 1992 / PAGE 80

Mosaic and collage. (Software Publishers Association symposium)
by Robert Bixby

Every so often, I have such an accumulation of information that I need to present it as is, in discontinuous form.

I just returned from the Software Publishers Association (SPA) symposium in Seattle with a suitcase full of dirty laundry and a briefcase full of notes, the latter of which I'm going to share with you. But before I begin, I want to give some credit where it's due. The art that accompanies this article is a computer generated painting by David Em. Em's work was discussed in the November 1991 issue and one of his paintings, Michele 2, 1990, served as an opening for the feature "The New Renaissance." Em's work is represented by Roberta Spieckerman Associates, San Francisco. We've had some calls about it, and I wanted to make sure Em was given full honors.

Honoring achievement was the centerpiece of the SPA symposium, where this year's awards dinner was hosted by Jon Lovitz, formerly of "Saturday Night Live." The four-day conference included workshops, addresses by the likes of Bill Gates and Trip Hawkins, and discussions among marketers, programmers, publishers, and journalists.

The agenda is so inclusive that I actually sat through a demonstration of how Fifth Generation Software puts its boxes together and makes sure that a complete disk set and manual go into each box.

Not all discussions were so mundane, however. I attended a round table on pen-based computing, for example, that was like a double shot of espresso. This simile is particularly apt because 1) Seattle is the coffee-and-espresso-drinkingest city in the world, and 2) as luck would have it, I was actually drinking a double espresso during the meeting--after the box demonstration, I figured I'd need it.

The discussion centered on acceptance. How large will pen computing be by the middle of the decade (only 21/2 years away)? Some said that it will always be a small niche. GeoWorks' Brian Dougherty disagreed, estimating an eventual $250 billion market in pen-based computing, including hardware and software.

Acceptance of new technology is said to follow a hockey-stick path. At first, sales are flat as people try out the new technology and think of ways to include it in their lives. As standards compete, prices have a natural tendency to come down precipitously (remember that less than ten years ago a VCR cost over $1,000). When the utility of t technology surpasses the unit price, there is a nearly vertical increase in sales, which represents the shaft of the hockey stick. During this vertical movement, fortunes are made and standards are set, so predicting the moment when it will begin is of vital interest to people investing in pen computing.

Conferees agreed that the pen computer of the future will not look like today's laptop but will more closely resemble a tiny version of the GRiD pen computer. The technology awaits useful software, low cost, and a nonrotating storage medium (that hard disk drive motor is one of the things that kills laptop batteries so quickly). Dougherty claims that GeoWorks is working with a computer manufacturer to bring out a pen-based computer for under $500 and that he will be prepared to demonstrate this computer and operating system in about a year--and GeoWorks is a company with an uncanny knack for delivering on its promises.

An affordable pen-based palmtop could mean a lot to a computer artist who until now has been chained to a hundred pounds or more of desktop hardware.

Another important graphics advance discussed at SPA involves using CD-ROM as an applications medium. Corel Systems is leading the way in placing applications software on CD-ROM. The compact disc has so much data storage space that not only can it contain the complete application, clip art files, typeface library, and other attendant programs but it also contains CoreIDRAW! in five different languages. This simplifies fulfillment by allowing the company to use a single disc for sales in the U.S., Canada, and all over Europe, but it's also a significant money saver because the cost of pressing a single CD-ROM is about the same as that of three or four high-density or high-capacity floppies. Look for an expansion of this practice in the future.