The next battleground in the computer world will be photography, as in taking pictures with computer chips versus capturing them on film.
Digital still cameras are becoming quite popular, with prices sliding to less than $300 for some models.The appeal is obvious: With a digital camera there's no film to buy and load, no processing fee. You snap your picture, connect your camera to your computer and view your images in full color.
The evolution in still cameras reminds me of my old 8mm home movies. My mom or dad would take three minutes of film of me in Little League games. We'd mail the film off to Kodak and two weeks later we'd set up the screen and watch a choppy image of my head rounding third base.
Then came video cameras. They crushed 8mm and the entire home-film industry.
Are digital still cameras going to do the same to still cameras? Probably, but not immediately. Part of the issue is cost. Digital cameras are still expensive. Another part is image quality. Digital cameras have a long way to go to beat conventional cameras, especially capturing moving action.
And last is printing. It's one thing to have a great photo of your kid stored in a digital camera. What if you want a copy to mail to grandma?
Color printers are coming along, but the image quality of home printers won't rival photo processing any time soon.
I borrowed a Casio QV-300 camera ($699) to play with and found while the camera was easy to use, it lacks some serious features. One, there is no flash, making indoor photos very hard to compose. Two, it lacked an AC adaptor so you could plug the camera into the wall while downloading images to your PC, an amazing omission at this price.
And last, the camera ate AA batteries like Gummi Bears. I was lucky to get 80 images out of a set of four AA's, making photography a little on the expensive side.
The Casio took fine photos as long as there was enough light and I was impressed with its capacity. It could capture 64 images in "fine" mode (640x480) and 192 images in "normal" (320x240) mode. When the camera's 4 MB memory is full, you use the included cable and software to dump the photos to your home or work PC.
My take? If you need to take photos that will end up in a printed or digital form (like desktop publishing, newsletters or for a Web site) a digital camera is the way to go now. The alternative (taking a conventional photo, getting it processed then scanning it in to a computer) is too costly and time-consuming.
For family snapshots that you want to keep in an album, stick with film for a while yet.
CALL OF THE WEEK: Always forgetting birthdays, holidays, appointments or even when to take out the trash? "Cybermom" is for you. This whimsical and cheap ($24.95 list) program will turn your Windows machine into a nagging reminder of what you need to do and when.
My favorite was a "Nag-O-Meter" which will pop up and remind users of appointments and give advance warning of birthdays and anniversaries. (From Digital Entertainment, "www.cybermom.com")
WEEKLY WEB WONDER: What would you expect an appliance company's Web site to look like? Drop in at "www.whirlpool.com" and be surprised.