Fads come and fads go. We've seen pet rocks, Cabbage Patch Dolls, streaking, and CB radios to name a few. It's inevitable that new fads would catch on that capitalized on technology unavailable just a decade ago. No, we're not talking about cellular phones, notebook computers, or even those little green Mattel Football II games that we used to torture our junior high school teachers with. We're talking about technology meeting the pet rock in the form of TamaGotchia little computer game that fits in the palm of your hand that requires constant attention. You must feed it, discipline it, and pretend it's a living creature. If you don't, it "dies" and you reboot the game. Sound familiar? It should. We do it every day with our PCs. Obviously, it's time for our annual, cautionary "boy, this PC world we live in sure is fragile" ednote!
We think the TamaGotchi is nothing more than a child's version of working with a personal computer. Instead of spending $2,500 on a desktop system, little kiddies can line up for hours to spend 20 bucks on a scaled-down version of the same thing: a box that needs constant rebooting. Oh, to be young again! For us grownups, the extra $2,480 we spend comes with bigger challenges than pressing a "food" button every hour or so. We have to care for and nurture our systems by keeping them fed with up-to-date driver releases, flushing viruses from the hard drive, and disciplining the machine and its users with nosy scandisk software. Fail to keep up and boomyour machine is dead and you have to reboot. PC-Gotcha!
The burgeoning complexity of software fuels this daily reboot routine to the point that we may ask ourselves, "Why am I doing this?" As object-oriented programming moves into full swing, our applications will become little nuggets of code scattered all over the place, even in different countries when it comes to DCOM. You'll no longer be able to fire up your trusty WidgetWare application and be assured that it's just an EXE with some DLLs all in a single directory tree. We have to take precautions that the user has not installed some other piece of software that has replaced some of the ActiveX controls with newer, possibly broken versions. The DirectX disaster this past yearwhere installing Game A would install older DirectX drivers and break Game Bis a classic example of the dangers we face ahead. (Just so you know, DirectX 5, introduced at the Computer Games Developers' Conference at the end of April, promises to fix this situation once and for all.)
What can we do to face those dangers? More than ever before, we have to use and respect version control, and we must write clean code. If we use even one undocumented interface on an ActiveX component, our app can be broken by something as simple as the user browsing a Web page that happens to contain a newer version of that same control. Fail to abide by these little measures and hey, you never knowmaybe you too can sell your product for twenty bucks to every kid on the planet.
This issue is dedicated to the memory of Tony Ortiz.
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