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Published: Saturday, 4/19/2003

No regrets: The essential 3

In 20 years of buying computer gear and services, I've hesitated about only 3 purchases, wondering if they were unneeded extravagances that I'd buy now and regret later.

All three quickly became how-did-I-ever-live-without-it items:

High-speed Internet access, a flat-panel monitor, and a Palm-type personal digital assistant (PDA).

If readers' questions are any indication, a lot of people are ambivalent about buying those items.

They're not essential. That's the problem. You can do everyday computing tasks perfectly well without them. In these tough economic times, nobody wants to spend unnecessarily, and people are counting the pros and cons of purchases very carefully.

Fast or “broadband” internet access was the easiest decision, and I bought soon after the service became available in the neighborhood.

Web pages and big email attachments that took minutes to download on that old dial-up modem connection now materialize in an instant. Many was the time in the past when I'd almost fall asleep waiting for that data to trickle in.

The fast connection also has opened new computing windows for other family members, with faster downloads of digital music files, for instance, and streaming audio and video of news and other events.

And the connection on the computer is on. That eliminates the need to periodically dial in for email, for example, to avoid tying up a phone line.

Yes, the service did mean an increase in my monthly cable bill, but it was less than first glance, since I saved money by eliminating one telephone line used only for the dial-up modem.

The flat-panel monitor caused a lot more indecision and worry because the price, at the time, was several hundred dollars more than a conventional monitor.

Conventional computer monitors are like TV picture tubes, and they hog desktop space. My desk is about 34 inches deep. Even then a standard 17-inch display left barely enough room for the keyboard.

The flat-panel's small “footprint” freed up more than 2 feet of space, and I think it displays text and graphics with a crispness and depth of color that rivals any regular display.

Humans react to their work environment, often without realizing that periodic headaches and neck and shoulder pain, for instance, may be due to cramped, uncomfortable quarters. That flat-panel display makes computing light years more comfortable and pleasant.

Do you often have to search for telephone numbers, addresses, birth dates, user IDs and passwords for online accounts, numbers for insurance policies, bank and brokerage accounts, auto license plates, and other stuff? Need to keep track of daily appointments and To-Do lists?

Do you need that information, and more, when you're away from home or the office?

I did, and do. Buying that first PDA 5 years ago took a lot of the hassle out of the names and numbers, times and places, side of life. The PDA minds all that information now, among other duties.

No regrets about any of those purchases.

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