Mark our words: 1990 will be known as the year of the scanner.
Scanners are instruments that convert line drawings into computer language and put them into a computer for storage and retrieval. They've been around a while but, until recently, only engineers and designers had much interest in buying them. Being images, they needed huge disk space for storage and lots of RAM memory for use - in other words, a lot more computer power than desktop computers had.Now, however, two things have happened. Affordable computers now have enough disk space and RAM. And programmers figured out how to turn scanners into optical character readers (OCR). These devices can read a sheet of typed or printed paper and store its content not as one image but as individual letters and spaces.
This is more exciting than it might seem. Over the past seven years, more readers told us they wanted OCR capabilities than any other computer feature. Often, they didn't know the name of what they hungered after. But they did know that buying a computer was like setting up in business all over again unless you could feed in the files from your paper filing cabinet.
That's right, folks! Today you can do just that. In 1990, we expect a technology buying rush the likes of which we haven't seen since the CD player.
There are many kinds of scanners. Some take a stack of paper and feed it through the electronic scanning hardware one sheet at a time. Others require a set of hands to feed the sheets. Some are hand-held and scan less than a full sheet at one time; this variety often works poorly with OCR software. But the rest are dynamite.
They all begin by storing one electronic image of the entire page: each character of type, each period, each space, even each drawing or photo are all lumped into one unit. Then the OCR software analyzes what's on the page, isolates the letters and numbers, and converts each one into its computer-language symbol.
When the OCR is done, you've got a file of words, not pictures. With your favorite word processor, you can edit it, modify the type, change the format, and then print it all over again. Eureka! Don't throw away your file cabinets yet. There's a down side to the coming OCR explosion. As they invade offices en masse, we expect people to input telephone books, trade show directories, library books, anything up to the capacity of their computers that they think they'll use.
They won't achieve more information, either, just a lot more data to be printed out on a lot more trees sacrificed to make a lot more paper. Back in 1983 we warned that you'll see pa-perless bathrooms before paperless offices.
During 1990, also watch for color-ized desktop publishing. Acceptable color laser, ink jet and dye transfer printers will become affordable.
In our own lab, we're already seeing crude software that separates colored photos into the hues needed for commercial printing. (It's known in the printing trade as color separation processing.) We've even tested software that edits and enhances colored and black-and-white photos tolerably well. Many local newspapers already use this kind of technology. Watch other businesses in town join the bandwagon.
We expect the spreadsheet war to heat up this coming year, not cool off. Before the year's out, watch for Excel II to knock Lotus lovers for a loop. Microsoft has a long history of getting out a good product and then coming along with truly great followup versions.
Say goodbye, beginning this year, to the decade of the desktop computer. In 1983, we defined a PC as "a computer that occupies the entire surface of any desk." In the coming decade, you'll get back your desktop as the boxes that hold computer parts and disks will shrink nearly 50 percent.
On the other hand, monitors will get higher and wider as people switch to screens that show 32 lines at 132 characters per line. The good news is that these monitors will be thinner back-tofront - finally. Their displays will be brighter and sharper and improved display circuits will get data to your screen faster than ever. (Over the past few years, one of the slowest parts in personal computers was the display!)
The 1980s was the decade of the executive desktop computer. Every exec had to have one or face terminal embarrassment. By the late 1990s, only the peons' computers will sit atop their desks. The brass will conceal their monitors in the bar or the bookcase. Their computers' brains will be so tiny that they'll slip into a desk drawer!
The coming year or two will usher in the unification of electronic technologies. You'll be able to create graphics on your computer, save it on VCR tape or CD disks, and play it on TV. Many homes will replace their early CD players with computerized CDs that can play music, display pictures and run computer programs. Prototypes of these all-in-ones are already in production.
We predict that many offices will buy the all-in-ones, too. A few CD-size disks can hold an entire 20-volume encyclopedia, complete with pictures that you can display and manipulate!
During the '90s, computer chip technology will reach far beyond the office and toy factory. Expect do-it-yourself medical kits that contain instructions on talking chips and glue-it-yourself furniture kits with similar talking instructions. It solves the problem of serving and selling to functional illiterates (about one in five of our population).
That could permit the powers that be to put off reforming our schools until at least the year 2000!
(C)1989 P/K Associates Inc., 4343 W Beltline Hwy, Madison WI 53711.