From the July 17, 1995 issue of Smart

Five Hot Technologies to Spark New Business

By David English

Plug and Play. Installing add-in cards has been a nightmare for both retailers and customers. Configuration difficulties result in customer dissatisfaction and increased support calls, and keep many customers from buying their first PC. According to Microsoft, as many as 50% of PC-vendor support calls result from installation and configuration problems.

Plug and Play is a set of hardware specifications that promise to make the PC, add-in hardware devices, device drivers and the operating system work together without the customer having to become involved. Windows 95 provides full support for the Plug and Play standard.

That means that your customers will no longer have to worry about setting card switches, installing device drivers or figuring out IRQs. To convert a PC into a multimedia system, all you'll have to do is plug in a sound card, SCSI card and CD-ROM drive; turn on the system; and play your CD-ROM software.

So far there are more than 100 Plug and Play products from more than 60 vendors, including sound cards, network cards, SCSI cards, video acceleration cards, PCMCIA cards, modem cards, printers, hard drives, CD-ROM drives, mice and monitors from companies such as Adaptec, ATI, Compaq, Creative Labs, Future Domain, Hewlett Packard, IBM, Lexmark, Logitech, Media Vision, NEC, Quantum, Sony, SyQuest, US Robotics, and Xircom.

AutoPlay. Using a CD-ROM title should be as easy as playing a video game or audio CD. That hasn't been the case until Windows 95. Using its new AutoPlay technology, Windows 95 recognizes the CD-ROM that's put into the drive and automatically launches the program. From the customer's perspective, any CD-ROM title with a Windows 95 logo will seem to run by itself. In most cases, a teaser screen will appear as the program is installing. This will give the customer the option to cancel in case the wrong disc was inserted.

Microsoft is recommending that Windows 95 CD-ROMs clean up after themselves when the consumer is through using the program, and, whenever possible, the program should run directly from the CD-ROM. Because AutoPlay titles will be so easy to run and potentially leave few, if any, files on the hard drive, consumers and retailers will find it much easier to test-drive CD-ROM titles. This will make it more practical to offer a wide selection of titles on your in-store demo machines and may even encourage some retailers to reconsider renting CD-ROMs.

CD+. With most audio CDs, there's a substantial amount of space on the disc that could be used for additional material. That's the reasoning behind the new standard, called Compact Disc Plus, which provides computer-users with lyrics, concert listings, behind-the-scenes videos, photographs, animation and other graphics-based extras. For example, a computer user could watch the lyrics on the screen in time with the music, or hear samples from other discs by the same artist while looking through the artist's discography. The CD+ discs incorporate Windows 95's AutoPlay feature, allowing consumers to play the discs without having to manually install them.

The new disc format was developed by Sony and Philips Electronics, and is backed by the Recording Industry Association of America, as well as both Apple and Microsoft. The first CD+ discs are expected to hit the stores in September, with titles from Mariah Carey, Alice in Chains, Bob Dylan and Toad the Wet Sprocket.

While CD+ discs will play in both audio CD players and Windows 95 computers, the industry expects to charge a premium for the CD+ versions. A spokesperson for Sony says that the CD+ versions will probably retail for about $3-$4 more than the regular CDs. She also says that many of the large music stores will sell both versions, while the software stores will most likely sell only the CD+ versions.

WinG and DirectDraw. Software developers can use Microsoft's WinG and DirectDraw software routines to create fast Windows 95 arcade games that would never have been possible under Windows 3.1. "Microsoft is committed to making Windows 95 the hottest game platform," says Brad Silverberg, senior vice president of the personal system division at Microsoft. "The tools and technology we are delivering to developers will result in new levels of fast, action-packed game play." Companies such as Acclaim Entertainment, Accolade, Activision, id Software, Maxis, MicroProse, Mindscape, Spectrum HoloByte and Viacom New Media have announced that they will support Windows 95 as a game platform.

The new Windows 95 arcade games that will be available soon after Windows 95 ships—including Accolade's Super Busby for Windows 95, Activision's Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, and Mindscape's NCAA Football—will provide some serious competition for the current generation of dedicated game machines.

Exodus. Speaking of serious competition for the dedicated game machines, Kinesoft Technology and Activision have created a new technology, code-named Exodus, that allows software developers to port their Sega Genesis games over to Windows 95. Here's the kicker: The Windows 95 versions will have faster graphics and better sound. Bill Gates demonstrated the technology at COMDEX/Spring in his keynote address and previewed Pitfall Harry, which is a port of last year's best-selling Sega title. Expect to see a steady stream of top Sega titles for Windows 95 in time for the Christmas selling season.

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