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Sherlock steals the iMac show


© St. Petersburg Times, published December 7, 1998

Craig Michaels came to talk about the iMac, but Sherlock stole the show.

This is a search engine that untangles the Web. Sherlock, a feature on the new Macintosh OS 8.5, can search either the Web or the computer's hard drive, and do it by using common, conversational language.

Take a question a child might ask. "Why is the sky blue?" Michaels, an Apple Computer product marketing manager, typed in. Sherlock quickly found relevant Web sites, and a click on the link took us immediately to the site, with no stopover necessary at a search engine's page.

No quote marks necessary. No typing in "sky" and "blue" and hoping for a match. Just the question. And finding an answer. That is no small blessing for those of us who have spent many an evening guiding our children through the maze of an Internet search.

As for the iMac, Michaels showed its easy setup (1 minute 45 seconds from box to power on, but he gets a lot of practice), its ease of use and its ability to handle games, particularly important for Apple's efforts to improve its standing in the home market.

And he answered the inevitable question from myself and co-workers: Why no floppy disk drive, the missing part that has been mentioned in almost everything written about the $1,299 computer since its debut in August?

"We don't believe all customers want floppies," he said, giving the company line. But even the Macphiles in attendance weren't persuaded.

* * *

There is a lot to be said about booking hotel rooms through a Web site and/or an 800 number. There also is a lot to be said for paying for the room beforehand. But try telling that to your office bookkeepers when you can't document that business trip you booked and paid for that way.

For a recent trip to Orlando, I checked out room availability through www.hoteldiscounts.com, found a room easily enough and decided to book it, using the 800 number. I also paid in advance.

So far, so good. Check-in was easy, the room was fine. Checkout, though, brought a surprise.

I found the bill for phone use at my door, but no receipt for the room. I went to the front desk and asked for a receipt.

Nope. I didn't pay at the hotel, so it couldn't give me a receipt. I asked again, and got the same answer. I left, with only the phone receipt in hand.

When I got home, I called the 800 number again. The credit card statement is your receipt, I was told. Um, that is not good enough. I need a receipt. We don't do receipts, I was told, but we'll send you a confirmation letter.

Okay, I'll take it, anything on paper. More than a month later, it still hasn't arrived. Nothing from the bookkeepers yet, either.

* * *

Curtis Dorrie of Tierra Verde has set up the Community Resources Online Web site (onlinedreams.com/pinellas/). It lists agencies in Pinellas County that deal with a variety of services, including health services, emergency services, social services and crisis and help lines. Dorrie said he got the idea after working with a non-profit group last year.

* * *

The mystery of a site that went blank has been solved. When columnist Jules Allen wrote about ergonomic keyboards in September, he mentioned one known as the Darwin SmartBoard but the address he gave for its Web site wouldn't work. He received a note recently that Darwin was acquired by DataDesk Technologies (www.datadesktech.com), so those interested in the SmartBoard keyboard can check there for information.

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