Behind the Scenes / Ty Ahmad-Taylor

My Way or the Highway

Recent legislation provided outlines for technical standards in the personal communications industry, but not all standards debates are solved so easily. Most often it is the market that eventually sets the standard, as was the case with videocassettes, when the Betamax format lost out to the VHS format.

Computer Operating Systems

On one hand...and on the other.
Apple has plagued by recent financial troubles and management turmoil, but the Mac OS still holds an edge over Windows 95 in terms of functionality. It only runs on Apple's machines.

I.B.M.'S operating system is technologically more robust than Windows 95, its primary competition. It offers a true 32-bit multitasking system.

Microsoft OS Windows 95 vs. I.B.M. OS/2 vs. Macintosh
Microsoft introduced Windows 95 last August with a marketing campaign unequaled in computer history in terms of cost (more than $150 million) and hype. The platform is a success, having sold 16 to 19 million copies so far, and has further solidified Microsoft's dominance.

Digital Video Disks

On one hand...and on the other.
The Sony Corporation, along with Philips Electronics, proposed one standard that revolved on single-sided disk. As two of the primary inventors of compact-disk technology, the companies thought they had a leg up on the rest of the industry but were unsettled when Time-Warner joined the Toshiba camp.

A contentious debate for a new image and data storage format.
The Toshiba Corporation devised an alternative plan that was eventually backed by Matsushita. It proposed a two-sided disk that required users to flip it manually, like a vinyl record, in the middle of a movie.

Where Things Stand
Major consumer electronics manufacturers agreed last Sept. on a single format, incorporating elements from both proposals, for a high capacity disk that should replace the videocassette and the CD-ROM. It will be able to store at least 4.7 gigabytes, the equivalent of a 133-minute movie.

Video Games

On one hand...and on the other.
Sony's Playstation and Sega's Saturn are 32-bit machines that use CD-ROM's to store their video games. The advantage to this approach is relatively cheap replication and distribution costs. The downside is that the user has to wait, at times, for the game to load.

Cartridges vs. CD-ROMS,
64- vs. 32-bit games.
In the United States, Nintendo planned to offer its 64-bit Ultra-64 game machine in April, but has been hurt by supply problems and has delayed the shipping date to Sept. 30. The Nintendo system uses cartridges, which cost developers $25-$30 to make, several times the cost of a CD, which cost developers $1-$2, according to IDC/Link.

Where Things Stand
Nintendo is not even on the market. Sony machines have outsold Sega in the past, but both machines currently sell for $299 and neither machine has a clear technological superiority over the other.

Digital Music Systems

On one hand...and on the other.
Sony's format debuted in 1992, and features recordable digital disks that can contain up to 74 minutes of music. They are roughly the size of floppy disks. Mini Discs use compression techniques to reduce the space needed to store digital information on the disk. Mini Disc players cannot play conventional compact disks.

Sony's Mini Disc System vs.
Philips Digital Compact Cassette.
Philips broke with Sony, its long-time development partner, when it released its own format, which is the same size as an ordinary tape cassette and records roughly 90 minutes of music. This digital format also uses compression.

Where Things Stand
The multiple formats appear to have confused consumers, as neither the Mini Disc nor the Digital Compact Cassette has gained a large toehold in the marketplace. According to Soundscan, about 92,000 Mini Discs were purchased last year, while the much larger compact disk industry sells 409 million disks a year. Soundscan did not track the D.C.C.

World Wide Web Browsers

On one hand...and on the other.
Netscape offers its browser, which allows users to view documents on the World Wide Web both for free and through retail outlets. It makes money by selling computer Web servers that allow companies to put up Web sites. They signed an agreement on Thursday to provide browsers to Compuserve.

Netscape's Navigator vs. Microsoft's Explorer
Microsoft entered the browser market a little bit too late, and is now in the position of trying to unseat Netscape. The browser market is important for Microsoft because it could unseat the company's own operating systems as the market leader.

Where Things Stand
Netscape controls 85% of the browser market, but both companies are doggedly pursuing alliances with America On-Line, which has five million customers.

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