Readers teach me a thing or two

July 13, 1998|By Mike Himowitz

I've been writing about computers for a dozen years now, and I never cease to be surprised by my readers.

For example, the column that brought more response than anything I've written in the last two years was a piece a few weeks ago about ways to remove that little burr under the saddle of life, the Caps Lock key. Obviously, more than a few of you are just as annoyed by it as I am.

First, I'd like to apologize to those of you running Windows 3.1 who tried to use the utility program I mentioned, ZDKeymap, to disable your Caps Lock key. Although though a version labeled for Windows 3.1 was listed on PC Magazine's Web site (www.pcmag.com), the program was designed strictly for Windows 95. Many readers with Windows 95 downloaded it and are using it quite happily, but Windows 3.1 users were left out in the cold.

This week, a reader from Columbus, Ohio sent me what may be the ultimate solution to the problem. It works under DOS, Windows 3.1, Windows 95, Win 98 and the Macintosh operating system.

To wit, my correspondent said he pried off the Caps Lock key with a screwdriver and covered the switch underneath with a 5/8-inch rubber furniture leg tip from the local hardware store. The rubber tip keeps his finger from accidentally pressing Caps Lock and TYPING EVERYTHING IN BIG LETTERS like this. Total cost: 50 cents. Low tech wins again.

Insanely Great Department: At MacWorld in New York last week, Apple's once and future king, Steve Jobs, wooed and wowed the faithful with the snazzy new iMac - a sleek little one-piece number designed to win back the consumer market that Apple had all but abandoned.

If this little machine revives Apple's fortunes, it may show just how gullible Mac buyers are. Here's a computer that was obviously designed for kids and schools (an Ethernet adapter is built in) but doesn't come with a floppy disk drive.

Although he may have once owned the education market, Jobs obviously hasn't been in a schoolhouse lately. How many teachers in their right mind would let 30 kids save their stuff on a hard drive? Or a network server? (Assuming the school owns one). How can they save their work and take it home? Or start a project at home and continue it at school? And for that matter, how are users anywhere supposed to back up their important files?

Oh sure, you can buy a third-party external drive - anyone who doesn't is an idiot. But that drives up the low $1,299 price tag a bit. Sort of like a car dealer asking an extra $150 for a spare tire. And it certainly defeats the elegant efficiency of the iMac's one-piece design.

You may remember that Jobs tried the same thing after he left Apple and designed the NextStep computer. It didn't come with a floppy drive, either. You say you don't remember the NextStep? I'm not surprised.

Speaking of drives, I got e-mail from a reader who downloads a lot of Web pages and files from the Internet and is tired of trying to store them on regular old 1.4-megabyte floppies. He wanted ** to know the best alternative for higher-capacity removable disks.

The most popular removable-media drive is still Iomega's Zip, which sells for $100 to $150 and uses 100-megabyte disks that run $12 to $15 apiece, depending on the quantity you buy. You can store a lot of stuff on one of these. Zips come in two basic flavors. External models hook up to your printer port. They're relatively slow, but they're easy to set up and they can be used with more than one computer. Internal models hook up to your hard drive controller and are much faster.

Be wary of the new Zip Plus model, however - early versions suffered from serious reliability problems.

An alternative to the Zip is the new 120-megabyte LS-120 drive, available from a variety of manufacturers. It can store more than a Zip drive, and unlike the Zip, it can read and write to standard 1.4-megabyte floppies. Parallel port and internal versions are available for $100 to $150.

If you need a lot of portable storage, check out SyQuest's new $200 Sparq drive, which stores 1 gigabyte of data (the equivalent of 10 Zip disks) on a single cartridge that costs $30 to $40. It's hard to beat this one in terms of bang for the buck. The only downside to this drive is that it's relatively new and incompatible with other drives. If you want to exchange data with other people, you may not be able to find someone who has a Sparq. But if you're strictly interested in backing up or storing your own material, it's a winner.

Pub Date: 7/13/98

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