Arlan R. Levitan
The Year To Come
[Editor's Note: Readers should be advised that the predictions of columnist Levitan below are likely to prove more a source of humorous, than of prognostic, value.]
Astute readers who perused the last two issues of COMPUTE! are quite likely cognizant of the discussions generated by the November "Telecomputing Today" column dealing with the highly competitive nature of today's commercial information services. The public discussions, both online and offline, were often high-spirited and passionate. In fact, in the heat of one online discourse, one person semijokingly referred to the column in question as an example of National Enquirer journalism.
I wish that COMPUTE! columnists were paid a fraction of what the average supermarket-checkout line-tabloid flack pulls down. Hmmm...maybe a minor format change could launch me into the major remuneration league. How about "I CUT OUT MY MODEM'S CLOCK CHIP AND STOMPED ON IT," "ALIENS LIVE IN MY HOME COMPUTER," or "THE HACKER'S DIET-LOSE TWENTY POUNDS IN THREE SLEEPLESS DAYS," all in bold 24-point type?
Rather tasty, but on second thought, a wee bit tacky. Wait a minute: This is January 1987, right? Why not a little telecomputing prognostication for the coming year, a la Jeanne Dixon? What the heck! Let's give it a shot:
• One of the top three consumer information services will be sold within the first three months of the year. Two of the current top ten will drop out of the business. General Electric's GEnie system will advance to the number 2 slot and force leader CompuServe to drop its 1200-bps rates below seven dollars an hour.
• A realtime multiplayer game (most likely in the Dungeons and Dragons genre) will be written for the Commodore Amiga that will be able to support four players connected together by modem via the Amiga's multitasking capability. Someone will claim that the program displays color graphics with occult significance if the program is decompiled and the code is reassembled in reverse order.
• The advent of home CD/ ROM units makes a big dent in the business of info services that focus on specialized database search and retrieval. Music isn't the only thing that compact discs can store. A CD can store over 150 million bytes of information per disc. That's enough to hold entire encyclopedias, every automobile test report ever written, or the complete works of Shakespeare. PC SIG, a distributor of public domain software for the IBM PC, is already selling a home CD/ROM unit for less than a thousand bucks, and tosses in a single disc with its entire software library. The disc, which currently contains over a hundred megabytes of programs, can be returned to PC SIG for updates at a nominal fee.
• At least ten affordable 9600bps modems that use standard telephone lines to bring down the cost of accessing commercial information services will be introduced by the end of Spring 1987. As independently owned and operated BBS systems move into the fast lane, most of the commercial services will be forced to drop their premiums for 2400-bps service.
• Notwithstanding their speed, the new 9600-bps modems will be the end of the line for modems utilizing analog transmission techniques. Pacific Bell will begin to market home service that allows concurrent voice and high-speed data transmission by the end of the year.
• In an effort to entice new computer owners to get into the telecomputing habit, the major players in the info service game will include free 300-bps modems with their introductory sign-up kits as well as free time.
• Single-chip modems will be readily available in speeds up to 2400 bps for less than a hundred dollars. Several new computers will include an empty socket on their motherboards into which users will simply plug the modem chip of their choice.
• The Cellular Phone system will embrace modems with a bear hug worthy of Hulk Hogan this year. Mobile phones with integrated modems will soon be standard equipment for the high-tech highway cruiser. High contrast, backlit, twisted element LCD displays will flip up from the dashboard, making it a snap to dial up your home or office computer. Don't worry about taking your hands off the wheel to key in data either. Speaker-independent voice-recognition systems that fire off prestored macros will eliminate the need for most manual entry.
• The IRS will introduce online filing of tax returns for businesses by the end of the year and for individuals by the end of 1988. Complete tax information and regulations will be available for perusal as well. The new process will have a major impact on the processing time required for returns, adding at least a month to the normal turnaround time.