14 Classic Tech Rivalries

No, not the David Lynch movie, but the cursor controller that sticks out of the middle of some laptop keyboards. Lenovo calls its version the TrackPoint. The obvious plus of the eraserhead pointer is that you don't have to move your hands from the touch-typing home row to move the cursor around the screen. Also, it's tactile, but not so easy to maneuver that you can make mistakes just by hitting it. Admittedly, the rubber tip can get slippery or gummy, depending on how sweaty your finger is and/or what you ate for lunch. But why mess with success?

What's So Great About a Touchpad?

The touchpad has some obvious advantages over the eraserhead pointer. For example, most touchpads let you scroll or perform other tasks by tapping or touching the pad's corners or sides. Apple's Multi-Touch trackpad raises the touchpad to a new level, enabling you to scroll, resize, rotate, and otherwise manipulate windows and other on-screen objects by making simple gestures. The obvious disadvantage of the touchpad is that it requires you to move your hands from the keyboard's home row. It also is less precise than a mouse for handling fine work on screen. On the other hand (or on the same hand), a touchpad wipes clean with a damp cloth if your egg salad sandwich performs impromptu gravity experiments on it at lunchtime.

Lotus 1-2-3 vs. Microsoft Office Excel

What's So Great About Lotus 1-2-3?

Courtesy of RetroSoftwareThough not the first spreadsheet program written for IBM's fledgling PC, Lotus 1-2-3 was the first great one, thanks to its speed, integrated functions, lack of bugs, and support for opening large spreadsheets in expanded memory. Though other spreadsheet programs written for MS-DOS matched and even improved on 1-2-3's features, none overtook it in popularity. In the late 1980s, though, Microsoft fielded an upstart spreadsheet called Excel for its Windows graphical interface. Lotus waited too long to release a Windows-based competitor (betting instead on IBM OS/2). By the time Windows 3.0 prompted a boom in Windows use, 1-2-3 had lost its lead. Rumors of 1-2-3's demise are premature, however; IBM still sells it as part of its Lotus SmartSuite office suite.

What's So Great About Excel?

If 1-2-3 was so great, how did a newcomer manage to usurp its position in just a few years? By the time Microsoft ported its Macintosh-based spreadsheet to the PC in 1987, most spreadsheets offered all the extra goodies that a number cruncher could want, including built-in formulas, macro languages, and database features. But Excel offered a couple of things that its competitors lacked: pull-down menus and WYSIWYG formatting that made it dramatically easier to use. Excel's time may be up, though: Today Microsoft's Office Live (which includes an Excel component) falls short of free Web-hosted applications such as Google Docs & Spreadsheets and Zoho Office.

What's So Great About Amazon?

On some level, you just want stuff. Never mind supporting local merchants, paying your fair share of sales tax, or even seeing something before buying it. Amazon gets that. The mother of all online stores has a huge array of stuff for sale, including used books, used CDs, and other collectibles sold through partner vendors (all the people who used to own used-book and -record stores in your town). The biggest downside to an Amazon transaction is guilt, because every order arrives in a dead-tree cardboard box stowed aboard a carbon-spewing delivery truck.

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