He went toe-to-toe with Microsoft and didn’t budge. He was so effective in proving his OS II platform superior to Microsoft Windows that, he says, a desperate Bill Gates personally made furtive phone calls to IBM’s top management and tried to get him fired. Already an IBM folk hero, this lowly marketer had suggested to CEO Roy Akers that he could best win the company’s praise by retiring. He is David Whittle, polite rebel and computer guru since 1979, whose stubborn insistence on simple quality is read by thousands in “Smart Computing” magazine.
Both veteran geeks and novices can find what’s very, very hot — and what’s so yesterday — during his free talk, “Whittle’s Picks for the Digital Home,” on Monday, April 10, at 7 p.m. at the Mercer County Library in Lawrence. The meeting is sponsored by the Princeton PC Users’ Group. Visit www.ppcug-nj.org to register or for more information.
Claiming roots in Orem, Utah and Granada Hills, California, Whittle is the son of an accountant. In 1969 his father’s desk sported the latest in technology — a $2,000 digital calculator. In l975, just before finishing a two and a half year, post-high-school sabbatical in Japan, Whittle picked up an equally powerful digital calculator for $25 and slipped it into his pocket. (Japanese retailers, using it themselves, had found it almost as fast as the Japanese abacus, the speedy, elegant soroban.)
Following in his father’s footsteps, Whittle graduated from Brigham Young University with an accounting degree in l979 and went to work for PricewaterhouseCoopers. One day he wandered across the hall and discovered a little outfit that was making computers they called “Apples.” A gentleman by the name of Steve Wozniak introduced himself as the firm’s chief engineer and within minutes had Whittle hooked. He ran out to buy an Apple, but a persuasive salesman convinced him to buy an Atari 800 system instead, and Whittle has been a PC man ever since.
This passion led Whittle to become controller of Zeda Computers, and then, after gaining an MBA from his alma mater, Brigham Young, he opened a computer store in l981.
Whittle recalls the day that two little barefoot Vietnamese children entered the store. He tolerantly watched them play with the toys. “After an hour, they slapped down $800 on the counter, took the system and left,” he recounts. “I learned marketing lesson number one that day,” he says. It is never a good idea to pre-judge a customer by any external indicator, including age, clothing — or lack of same. This was especially true in the red hot world of computer retailing in the years that the machines were brand new. The store proved so successful that Whittle could not keep goods on the shelves or take time for himself. He sold it in l984, and for the next 12 years went to work for IBM, becoming as he puts it “an OS II evangelist.”
In l997, as the Internet was exploding, Whittle wrote “Cyberspace: The Human Dimension” (W.H. Freeman, New York), which predicted the positive and negative impacts of this burgeoning communications tool with uncanny accuracy. Just one year before, Whittle had founded his own WebWorking Services Corporation, which has helped such clients such as Intel and Alpha Software bring innovations to market. He continues to run this firm (www.webworkingservices.com) from Springville, Utah.
“What we really need is things that make life better, not more complex,” says Whittle in defining his top picks criterion. “Software that aims at providing everything for everybody must inherently be overly complex,” he says, citing the case of his beloved iPod.
When the third generation iPod came out last fall, he feared that his old iPod might be underfeatured. But the new iPod, capable of displaying album covers in full color, storing thousands of photos, and showing full-length movies on its tiny screen, is, in his opinion, just too full of bells and whistles that obscure his primary use of the tool. “The old iPod looks, feels, and works right,” he says, “and does what I want without all the clutter of the extras.” Here are some other tech products that also pack a lot of productivity without a lot of unnecessary clutter:
AutoProducer 5. Gather up your pictures, videos, recorded music, and narratives, and the new autoProducer 5 by Muvee (www.muvee.com) will transform them into a seamless, professional movie or slide show that you can burn onto CD or DVD. “This is probably the only piece of software that engenders PC envy in Mac users,” says Whittle.
Autoproducer 5 actually paces the show to the music, understanding both beat and scene transitions. It will move from scene to scene very nicely on its own, while incorporating any suggestion you make. Editing is a piece of cake. Simply play your show, and as it runs, click on the thumbs up icon for elements you want to keep, or click on the thumbs down icon to delete.
Whittle has removed the similar 3-D Album, produced by Micro Research, from his top-picks list, saying that Muvee’s latest just outdoes it. Among its superior features, AutoProducer 5 boasts different editing styles. You can put your wedding album or rafting adventure in the program’s standard pro-medium style or take a swifter pace with pro-fast style. There is even an old-style, complete with sepia tones, camera lens lint, and Keystone-cops jerkiness added in.
Stores and catalogs set Autoproducer 5’s price from $59 to $99. But as one former Hollywood movie producer told Whittle, “I would have paid literally $1 million for this 15 years ago.”
Invisus Security. At last, a no-bother, one-purchase system that makes your computer invisible to the bad guys. For a $15 monthly subscription, Invisus Direct (www.myinvisusdirect.com) provides the best of breed guards against viruses, spyware, and pests, while providing top firewall and update management.
“The problem is that the Microsoft monopoly is deliberately blind to security,” says Whittle. “After all, insecure systems require more replacing.” The result is that the individual buyer, resentful of having to purchase security as a separate feature, does so on the cheap. He gets free spyware searchers that check every 24 hours for cookies, allowing the invaders a whole day’s window to complete operations that take only seconds.
The primary reason Whittle calls himself Invisus’s biggest fan is that it applies the best of breed to each aspect of security. Its firewalls are bi-directional, thus preventing disease being passed around from more than just incoming sources. Unlike Norton, whose systems slow your machine by constantly scanning and checking every activity, Invisus deletes only active processes. It allows cookies, viruses, and vermin to harmlessly sit on the machine until immediately before they might be activated by opening, then it instantly squashes them.
Secondly, Whittle loves Invisus’s ultimate support network, which is truly no-hassle for even the most novice user. Free and 24/7, the phone support technicians will not only talk you through your problems, they can also remotely take control of your machine and install, repair, and make you happy.
As an extra bonus, Invisus offer subscribers $25,000 identity theft insurance. The package cost is $15 monthly for the first computer, $9.99 for each additional one, and if you sell the product to five friends, you get yours free. In fact, if you want to invest a couple of hundred, you can set yourself up as a dealer, receiving 20 percent of each new subscription you bring in.
Iseemedia. The Imagesaver 5XE from Iseemedia (www.iseemedia.com) makes good its boast of delivering any image, in any format, any size, to any device, anywhere. Whittle sees it as the simplest, fastest picture and print blender and publisher. But his favorite new software is Iseemedia’s Photovista, which, in his opinion, outdoes Adobe, and literally makes folks “Ooh” and “Aah.” A free trial is available on the Iseemedia website.
Point your camera in any direction and continuously click overlapping photos as you turn in a 360 degree circle. Within three seconds, Photovista blends all your varied exposures into a single, seamless panoramic photo. An astounding tool/toy.
Whittle says that the public is well past the awe that the computer once engendered and thus less accepting of “necessary” complexities. “People want tools for jobs,” he says. “If I want a shovel, I’ll buy only a very good shovel, not a fair grade shovel that offers hoe, rake, and cigaret lighter attachments.”