pbn_logo.gif (6296 bytes)

Ask Shak:
Free Computers, Buying a New Box,
Voice Recognition Software


One of the most important relationships you’ll ever have is with your personal computer. There’s perhaps no other component of our business life that’s more vexing as that box that sits on most people’s desks. Everyone has computer questions and we’re here to assist you in that department. Below are a few questions I’ve received recently from readers. I hope the answers will be useful to you.

Dear Shak:
I’ve seen quite a few articles about companies such as PeoplePC that give you a free computer providing you sign up for three years of Internet service. This sounds like a pretty good deal to me but I'm not sure what the reality is. What’s your take?

Mr. Kim in Kalihi

Dear Mr. Kim:
Yes, I‘ve seen those advertisements too. There are a bunch of companies out there flogging their free computers but as you know, nothing in this life is really free. Thus I’m inherently skeptical when I hear about deals like this.

However, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and so far as I can determine, there is no catch. With PeoplePC, you pony up $24.95 a month, and in return you receive unlimited Internet service from UUNet which is a nationally known ISP. You also get a new PC. As you might expect, the PC you get is not the most powerful on the market but so far as I can determine, it’s a respectable (Toshiba) machine with a 366 MHz processor, 64 megabytes of RAM, a 6-gigabyte drive, a CD- ROM, a 56K modem and a monitor. The deal is that after three years the company will replace the PC with a newer machine.

OK, so let’s crunch the numbers and look at this a bit deeper. If you multiply $24.95 by 36 you get $898.20. (Keep in mind that you have to pay the $48 shipping charges on the computer as well). My feelings are that for the same amount of money you can purchase a new, better machine and, sign up for some of the free Internet services that are being offered. I am also not clear about service. Do they provide on-site service? Do you have to ship the PC to the mainland for repairs? Who pays for the shipping? Another issue is high speed Internet access. Nowadays, the shift is definitely towards bandwidth and three years down the line you might not want to be stuck with a 56 kps modem. I really wonder if PeoplePC and companies like it will make these kinds of broadband services available to customers who might desire them. We’ll see if there is a free lunch after all.

Dear Shak:
I'm looking around for a new desktop machine for my home office up here on Wilhelmina Rise. I’ve got a four year-old Dell that is just too slow and the 800 megabyte drive is much too small. I figure that I should get at least something like a 400 Mhz processor. However, I’m pretty confused. There are so many different types of chips out there. For example does it really matter whether the processor is an Intel Celeron or a Pentium II or III, or an AMD K6-3 or Athelon. I plan on using it for desktop publishing, e- mail, occasional web surfing and word processing. What do you think?

Bill on the Hill

Dear Bill:
I get this question a lot from home office people and small businesses. I would think all the chips you mentioned have more than enough power for your purposes. In the spectrum of things you have pretty modest needs and don’t need the most heavy duty machine in the world. You mentioned desktop publishing but I don’t really know what that entails. If you don’t plan to work with programs like Adobe Photo shop and manipulate images I’d say go with a less expensive machine. You’re definitely not going to need a PIII or a top of the line AMD Athlon. However, if you do plan to work with graphics or photos you might want to get one of the more powerful processors. Otherwise, I’d say a lower priced Celeron or AMD K6-2 would work fine. The Celeron has a smaller cache than the others (which means it doesn’t manage memory quite as well) but that shouldn’t affect you. The truth is today's chips are so fast most of the software can’t even take full advantage of them. I’d put the money you save towards a new 17-inch monitor if you don’t already have one or additional RAM.

Dear Shak:
I'm a grad student at UH who is inundated with lectures which I record on a small cassette machine. I’ve heard that there is voice recognition software that can actually transcribe voice onto my computer. That would save me an incredible amount of time. Can you recommend something?

Shelly in Makiki

Dear Shelly:
I’ve got some good news and some bad news. The good news is that yes, there is voice recognition software out there. The bad news is that it’s not quite ready for prime time. Two of the best known names in voice recognition technology are Dragon Systems and Lernout & Hauspie. They do have software that allows you to dictate into a recording device which is connected to a PC for automatic transcription. However they are meant for people who need to dictate memos while they're on the go. The software will recognize the user's voice and most likely would not do a great job transcribing a speech given by somebody else. What you’re asking for is coming but it will be a few more years down the road. I’m sure you will have graduated by the time it’s available.

Shakil Ahmed is the founder of PDC Systems, a Honolulu computer and networking company established in 1991. Questions should be addressed to askshak@pdcsystems.com.

Pacific Business News, January 21, 2000

ruler3.gif (618 bytes)
Home / About Pac-Tech / PR Services / Clients / Clips--Hawaii--National