Electronic mail (e-mail) software enables users to send letters and documents from one computer to another. Many organizations have "electronic mailboxes." If you were a sales representative, for example, such a mailbox would allow you to transmit a report you created on your word processor to a sales manager in another area. Or you could route the same message to a number of users on a distribution list.
Desktop Accessories & Personal Information Managers
Desktop accessory software provides an electronic version of tools or objects commonly found on a desktop: calendar, clock, card file, calculator, and notepad.
Personal information manager (PIM) software combines some features of word processing, database manager, and desktop accessory programs to organize specific types of information, such as address books.
Pretend you are sitting at a desk in an old-fashioned office. You have a calendar, clock, calculator, Rolodex-type address file, and notepad. Most of these items could also be found on a student's desk. How would a computer and software improve on this arrangement?
Many people find ready uses for types of software known as desktop accessories and personal information managers (PIMs).
A desktop accessory, or desktop organizer, is a software package that provides an electronic version of tools or objects commonly found on a desktop: calendar, clock, card file, calculator, and notepad.
Some desktop-accessory programs come as standard equipment with some systems software (such as with Microsoft Windows). Others, such as Borland's SideKick or Lotus Agenda, are available as separate programs to run in your computer's main memory at the same time you are running other software. Some are principally scheduling and calendaring programs; their main purpose is to enable you to do time and event scheduling.
Personal Information Managers
A more sophisticated program is the personal information manager (PIM), a combination word processor, database, and desktop accessory program that organizes a variety of information. Examples of PIMs are Commence, Dynodex, Ecco, Lotus Organizer, and Franklin Planner.
Lotus Organizer, for example, looks much like a paper datebook on the screen—down to simulated metal rings holding simulated paper pages. The program has screen images of section tabs labeled Calendar, To Do, Address, Notepad, Planner, and Anniversary. The Notepad section lets users enter long documents, including text and graphics, that can be called up at any time.26 Whereas Lotus Organizer resembles a datebook, the PIM called Dynodex resembles an address book, with spaces for names, addresses, phone numbers, and notes.
Integrated Software & Suites
Integrated software packages combine the features of several applications programs—for example, word processing, spreadsheet, database manager, graphics, and communications—into one software package.
What if you want to take data from one program and use it in another—say, call up data from a database and use it in a spreadsheet? You can try using separate software packages, but one may not be designed to accept data from the other. Two alternatives are the collections of software known as integrated software and software suites.
Integrated Software: "Works" Programs
Integrated software packages combine the features of several applications programs—such as word processing, spreadsheet, database, graphics, and communications—into one software package. These so-called "works" collections—the principal representatives arc AppleWorks, ClarisWorks, Lotus Works, Microsoft Works, and PerfectWorks—give good value because the entire bundle often sells for $100 or less.
Some of these "works" programs have "assistants" that help you accomplish various tasks. Thus, Microsoft's Works for Windows 95 helps you creak new documents with the help of 39 "task wizards." The wizards lead you through the process of creating a letter, for example, that permits you to customize as many features as you want.
Integrated software packages are less powerful than separate programs used alone, such as a word processing or spreadsheet program used by itself. But that may be fine, because single-purpose programs may be more complicated and demand more computer resources than necessary. You may have no need, for instance, for a word processor that will create an index. Moreover, Microsoft Word takes up about 20 megabytes on your hard disk, whereas Microsoft Works takes only 7 megabytes, which leaves a lot more room for other software.
7. Virtual-Reality & Simulation Devices
Virtual reality (VR) is a kind of computer-generated artificial reality that projects a person into a sensation of three-dimensional space. To achieve this effect, you need the following interactive sensory equipment:
The headgear—which is called head-mounted display (HMD)—has two small video display screens, one for each eye, that create the sense of three-dimensionality. Headphones pipe in stereophonic sound or even "3-D" sound. Three-dimensional sound makes you think you are hearing sounds not only near each ear but also in various places all around you.
The glove has sensors that collect data about your hand movements.
Software gives the wearer of this special headgear and glove the interactive sensory experience that feels like an alternative to the realities of the physical world.
You may have seen virtual reality used in arcade-type games, such as Atlantis, a computer simulation of The Lost Continent. You may even have tried to tee off on a virtual golf range. There are also a few virtual-reality home videogames, such as the 7th Sense. However, there are far more important uses, one of them being in simulators for training.
Simulators are devices that represent the behavior of physical or abstract systems. Virtual-reality simulation technologies are applied a great deal in training. For instance, they have been used to create lifelike bus control panels and various scenarios such as icy road conditions to train bus drivers.
They are used to train pilots on various aircraft and to prepare air-traffic controllers for equipment failures. They also help children who prefer hands-on learning to explore subjects such as chemistry.
Of particular value are the uses of virtual reality in health and medicine, For instance, surgeons-in-training can rehearse their craft through simulation on "digital patients." Virtual-reality therapy has been used for autistic children and in the treatment of phobias, such as extreme fear of public speaking or of being in public places or high places. It has also been used to rally the spirits of quadriplegics and paraplegics by engaging them in plays and song-and-dance routines. As one patient said, "When you spend a lot of time in bed, you can go crazy."
Interestingly, an ethical—and potential litigation—problem for makers of virtual-reality equipment is that of certain health side effects. Known as cybersickness or simulator sickness, symptoms include eyestrain, queasiness, nausea and confusion, and even visual and audio "flashbacks" among some VR users. The disorder sometimes afflicts military pilots training on flight simulators, for example, who are then prohibited from flying. Not all users of virtual-reality equipment will experience all symptoms. Nevertheless, in preparation for the expected wave of VR products, researchers are taking a long look at what kinds of measures can be taken to head off these complaints
The first Robot Olympics was held in Toronto in November 1991. "Robots . competed for honors in 15 events—jumping, rolling, fighting, climbing, walking, racing against each other, and solving problems," reported writer John Malyon. For instance, in the Micromouse race, robots had to negotiate a standardized maze in the shortest possible time.
Here, however, they are of interest to us because as output devices they output motion rather than information. They can perform computer-driven electromechanical functions that the other devices so far described cannot.
To get to definitions, a robot is an automatic device that performs functions ordinarily ascribed to human beings or that operates with what appears to be almost human intelligence. Actually, robots are of several kinds— industrial robots, perception systems, and mobile robots
Forty years ago, in Forbidden Planet, Robby -the Robot could sew, distill bourbon, and speak 187 languages. We haven't caught up with science-fiction movies, but we may get there yet. ScrubMate—a robot equipped with computerized controls, ultrasonic "eyes," sensors, batteries, three different cleaning and scrubbing tools, and a self-squeezing mop—can clean bathrooms. Rosie the HelpMate delivers special-order meals from the kitchen to nursing stations in hospitals. Robodoc-notice how all these robots have names—is used in surgery to bore the thighbone so that a hip implant can be attached. Remote Mobile Investigator 9 is used by Maryland police to flush out barricaded gunmen and negotiate with terrorists.A driverless harvester, guided by satellite signals and artificial vision system, is used to harvest alfalfa and other crops.
Robots are also used for more exotic purposes such as fighting oil-well fires, doing nuclear inspections and cleanups, and checking for mines and booby traps. An eight-legged, satellite-linked robot called Dante II was used to explore the inside of Mount Spurr, an active Alaskan volcano, sometimes without human guidance. The robot Lunar Prospector is being built for launching in 1997 to map the chemical composition of the Moon's surface from orbit. TROV—for Telepresence Controlled Remotely Operated Vehicle—has been built and tested for searching for life on Mars, perhaps as early as 2003.