Once upon a time in American business, "planned obsolescence" was a
dominant ideology: things would be built to last X number of years and
then they'd fall apart and would have to be replaced.
As consumers, many of us have experienced this with cars, refrigerators
and toaster ovens, to name but three, and I believe that latter product is
today's most egregious example of planned obsolescence. Worse still, the
potential replacements are, by and large, easy to spot as being inferior
to the older models.
But I digress.
The subject of this column, after all, is computers, and in technology
obsolescence takes on different shades. For example, Microsoft Corp.'s
Windows 2000 operating system, once incarnated as "Windows NT," should
still run happily well into the future, perhaps as far as the year 2020,
if not longer. But Microsoft's Web site lists little in the way of support
for Windows 2000, which had primarily been "pushed" as a networker server
operating system, and instead is promoting Windows Server 2003, at least
until the server edition of Windows Vista arrives.
It's Microsoft's right, of course, to say which products it will, and
won't, support, and to set lifespans for those products. And, it can be
argued, that today's operating systems - and tomorrow's - will deliver a
lot more computing power and capability, and do so better than their
But it's an open question whether adding more features and more overhead
to products necessarily makes them better. Some new items, still in review
at On Computers Central, raise that question.
The "Dana Wireless" a $429 "smart" terminal and more from Renaissance
Learning of Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin, is the successor to the old
AlphaSmart 3000; it even bears an AlphaSmart name. Unlike the older model,
the Dana uses the Palm operating system. However, the new machine's
implementation is puzzling at times. The pre-loaded e-mail program, which
supposedly goes to the Web via a built-in WiFi radio, won't touch my
e-mail account, no matter how I try. Thus, sending a word processing file
via e-mail isn't possible right now.
While the predecessor model didn't offer either WiFi or e-mail, at least
the AlphaSmart 3000 was up front about that. You got a terminal you could
use to write and store text files with, and that's not bad. It had only a
four-line display, not the eight lines of the Dana, but that was
The new product is nice, light and seems to be useful in many ways. I'm
not sure I'll like it as much as the old one, though. The "getting used to
it" curve seems steeper in part because of the improved display: the new
lines seem a bit hard to read, although you can enlarge the font,
sacrificing the number of lines for greater legibility.
The new Dana does offer a pair of SecureDigital (stet), or SD, memory card
slots, boosting the already-useful 16 Mbytes of memory to far greater
amounts. Pop the card out and place it in a desktop computer's adapter,
and file transfers are a breeze; there's also software and a USB cable
that'll take care of such connections.
Weighing only 2 pounds, the Dana Wireless promises a lot in a small
package. I do wish elements of the delivery, such as the e-mail and the
WiFi transmitter, were a bit more reliable and consistent. For those
looking for a way to take notes and compose writing on the go, however,
this is a product worth some consideration. Details at www.alphasmart.com.