Random Bits


Once upon a time, the Pentium was an 80586...

Hardware manufacturers have slowly learned that, when they want to sell to consumers, they have to cut back on the sheer tonnage of numbers used to describe their products. Names work better with the public.

Macintosh was a great name, though it didn't seem to help Apple conquer the world. "IBM Personal Computer" was an intimate but generic moniker that, stripped of its corporate initials, left the field open for clone-makers' creativity.

The first generation of clones received names that relied on a few standard syllable combinations to suggest speed and power. Whatever you bought, it was some variation of the DYNA-HYPER-TURBO-EXCEL-PRO-EDGE formula.

Now there's a new wave of names for these boxes.


Notice the patterns? These names tend to finish with vowels. Makes them sound sporty, European. They probably cost each company enormous amounts in consultants' fees. And they don't mean anything. They sound like bad car models that will go straight from the factory to the rental lots.

Can't this industry be more creative?

Someday I'd like to buy an Epson Eccentra. An AST Ambigua. An Austin Healey. A Compaq Paq-Man. A Dell Delusion. A Zeos Zygote.

But no. Instead, it seems, the next round of naming will retreat even further into blandness. The move will be toward gladhanding short first names -- not only for hardware but for operating system software. Microsoft has already introduced us to Bob. (No, Bob, I will not shake your hand.)

After Bob, no doubt, we will meet JoeBob. Apple will counter with Adam. And IBM may find itself stuck with Ian. Or Ivan. Or perhaps Ebenezer.


There are too many console screens out there. (This one is from The Journeyman Project.) Half of the multimedia games you see -- and even a lot of non-game products -- uses a gizmo-laden control panel as its interface. Okay, yes, when I was a kid I loved to dream about airliner cockpits and spaceship instrument panels, too. But is this really the only format designers can imagine to give us? Or is this industry stuck on autopilot? Or is it all just a scheme to try to make us forget that the video windows we're peering into only occupy a small part of our monitor screens? And is anybody fooled?


Last year, when Bill and Hillary were waist-deep in the big muddy of health-care reform, you may have read about a little program called SimHealth. Taking off from Maxis' popular Sim series, the simulation allowed players to explore different ways of dealing with the health-care budget and to follow the effects of their choices on the national economy, the medical system and their own political fate.

Surely this is only the start of this trend. Maxis continues to release elaborations of Sim City, like the new Sim Tower. But, let's face it, there are sexier subjects out there in the headlines every day. This innovative approach needs to be taken further. Where, for example, is --

The possibilities are simply limitless...
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