Boom and bust

National | "Cool sites" grow cold, even as the tech market stays hot; digital photography becomes standard, as the Microsoft Windows software standard is reinvented

Issue: "Life after Clinton?," Aug. 26, 2000

Net losses
Now what happens to the Internet stock boom? Venture capitalists are still venturing and new companies are growing, but "E-tailing is very cold right now," says Silicon Valley investment heavyweight Geoffrey Yang. In the space of only a few weeks, a lot of balloons deflated as many Internet stocks faltered out of fear that many companies will never make money. Yet there are still many seeking their fortunes on the new frontier. So the hunt goes toward companies that make building blocks for a better Internet. Meanwhile, more and more people are taking high-tech jobs. That sector has grown by 1.2 million people in the United States since 1993, hitting 5 million last year, according to an American Electronics Association report. Technology jobs paid an average $58,000 annually, compared with $32,000 for other private-sector work. There's plenty of affluence to go around. And still more dot-com carnage as well. A once-promising online department store called Value America filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, eliminated 185 jobs, and shut down its retailing operations. The company is transforming into a services business, dealing in online ordering, billing, and distribution. The company had a net loss of $143.5 million in 1999, and this year saw its stock drop from $17 to about 72 cents a share. Move over, Polaroid
Years ago, families used Polaroids and Instamatics as cheap cameras to take lots of pictures. That role may soon be taken by digital cameras as low-end models become more affordable. The pictures are far from 35mm quality, but they're decent. They may need batteries and disks, but they don't need film or developing. Instead of waiting for prints, the digital shutterbug simply goes to his computer and looks at his shots. Hundreds of shots of junior can sit on the hard drive, with the best printed out by means of a color inkjet. About 5.5 million digital PC cameras will sell this year in the United States, but the future looks explosive. Computer makers will give away entry-level digital cameras with about half the computers sold in 2003, according to InfoTrends Research Group in Boston. One of the forerunners of this trend is the Intel Pocket PC Camera, which has two purposes: It takes stills and short video clips. For $149, the device comes with eight megabytes of flash memory, capable of taking 128 pictures or two minutes of video. Intel hopes to serve those who like to swap pictures back and forth across the Net. For those who want the best in quality digital cameras, the megapixel (each picture contains a million dots of color) models run about $300 a piece. They come in the familiar point-and-shoot style, usually with an LCD screen in the back that works as a viewfinder or a computer-style menu of stored photos. Digital cameras are bringing a level of convenience similar to that of the personal stereo and pocket calculator. One-hour photo may one day be one hour too much. Reinventing Windows
The most powerful version of Microsoft Windows is one most people will never see. Microsoft will officially launch its Windows® 2000 Datacenter Server next month, completing the software giant's rollout of a new operating system in its business-minded branch. The new software's capabilities easily dwarf those of its consumer cousins like Windows 98. Datacenter supports up to 64 gigabytes of physical memory, 500 to 1,000 times the capacity of the standard desktop machine. It can also put up to 32 processors through their paces at once. All this is intended to run computer networks for corporations and institutions, with hardware and software costing thousands and thousands of dollars. Unlike the consumer-market gorilla, this Microsoft product is still trying to win respect and take market share away from Unix, a system whose appeal to techies knows no bounds. Microsoft is trying to win Datacenter a place while trying to sell the world on its vaguely defined ".NET" strategy of expanded services available over the Internet. Instead of simply making data available through an operating system on a PC-whether it's Datacenter or old-fashioned DOS-Microsoft intends to do this through whatever channel the user wants: cell phones, handheld computers, and even car radios. Other high-tech companies are on this quest as well, throwing around buzzwords like "pervasive computing" and "digital convergence." As for operating systems themselves, Microsoft still plans to merge the business and consumer flavors of Windows into one system used everywhere-unless the government is successful in breaking up the company.

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