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Hardware: Hard Choices

This is June 1984 speaking. By the time you read this, there will have been changes in personal computing equipment. We've focused on general advice and direction, which shouldn't be seriously affected by the announcement of a new computer or even another "generation" of computer systems.

First reason: we at Whole Earth think there's more value in digging out the best in personal computing, not the newest. New products, especially hardware, are going to have problems. This was true of the vaunted IBM PC right after its announcement and frustrates our office today as we try to get the interesting new Mindset computer to cough up its excellent graphic capabilities, but can't because of a balky disk drive. That doesn't invalidate Mindset they're just having predictable early production glitches.

FIRST RULE: Don't buy serial number "1" of any system (or anyttiing close to it).

Second reason: a new computer system that is revolutionary (the Macintosh is a good example) will not have enough software immediately available to satisfy the average buyer. It generally takes one or two years for the software producers to catch up with a new machine. We recommend Macintosh, but not as highly as six to twelve months from now. We expect a raft of software announcements during late 1984 for the Mac, but can't predict which kinds, their quality, utility, or overall value. It's a machine worthy of attention, so watch developments.

SECOND RULE: Buy a computer that offers a number of efioices In each software category (writing, organizing, drawing, etc.) that interests you.

Since personal computers (and, of course, the programs that make the beasts work) are becoming more capable each year, a natural tendency is to hold back and await next year's developments. That's a valid approach /fyou don't have anything currently important to do that a personal computer would substantially improve.

A friend of mine with no persona! computer experience spent about a month bugging computer dealers for advice on how to automate his 15,000-name mailing list he uses to market specialized seminar programs. He settled on a Televideo 802H computer and Selector V organizing software and wound up paying about $5,000. He had bumpy times at first: the computer's hard disk was replaced twice and the software wasn't as easy as he thought. The punch line, though, is the computer paid for itself in six months, based on what he no longer had to shell out to the service bureau that previously made address labels for his promotional mailers.

My friend would have been crazy not to buy some system. The benefits were quick to appear and the cash outlays, while significant, were justified. If more "efficient" personal computers appeared the day after he made his choice, it wouldn't matter.

THIRD RULE: Think about what you can gain from a personal computer. If it's a lot, crash ahead. If you're uncertain, either wait or buy cheap and do some exploring.