Some people think that writing about computers is fun and games, but most of the time I focus on serious business tools. Once a year, however, my editors let me delve into the real fun and games. Hence my annual holiday gift column.
I'm not much of a game expert, so I turned to Peter Spear for advice. Spear is a former TV producer turned computer game guru. His latest book, "The Uncensored Leisure Suit Larry Bedside Companion" (Bantam, $9.95), makes a good gift. The book contains hints on how to play Sierra On-line's popular Leisure Suit Larry games along with an original short story and a compilation of Larry's diaries. It's a lot funnier than the business computer books that I write.
One of Spear's recommendations, Railroad Tycoon (MicroProse Software, $59.95), puts you in charge of a railroad. You plan routes, buy land and equipment, build stations and watch your railroad come to life. The illustrated manual includes a history of railroading.
The millions of people who love the board game Trivial Pursuit can now play it on their computer. Parker Brothers has published a $39.95 software version for IBM and compatibles. For information call 508-927-7600.
While some people like games, others would prefer more business-oriented gifts.
For your serious-minded friends, consider an integrated software program like Microsoft Works or Lotus Works. Both programs offer word processing, communication, spreadsheet and database all wrapped into one modestly priced ($149) and relatively easy-to-use program.
This may be flu season for people, but it's always virus season for computers. Viruses, which are spread by sharing software, can wipe out the contents of a hard disk. For Macintosh users, consider giving Symantec Anti-Virus for Macintosh ($99.95). For IBM compatibles, check your bookstore for V.I.R.U.S. Protection: Vital Information Resources Under Siege, by Pamela Kane (Bantam, $49.95). This book-disk combination includes both a book and a disk with protective software.
Of course, all this software won't do much good if your friend or loved one doesn't have a computer. Unfortunately, I can't recommend any that are priced like stocking stuffers. Few of us can afford $1,000 or more for such a lavish present, but even if you can, buying a computer is not something to be taken lightly. If you are thinking about buying someone a computer, be very careful. If you know exactly what the person needs and are willing to spend a lot of money, then a computer makes an excellent gift. But the wrong model can lead to some unhappy surprises.
If you do shop for a computer, I recommend you look at Apple's new Macintosh Classic. The $1,499 model comes with a hard disk and 2 megabytes of memory. That's plenty of computer power at a reasonable price. And, like all Macs, it's easy to use.
You can do well for less than $1,000 if you get an IBM compatible or "clone." It's hard to recommend from the hundreds of brands, but you'll do fine if you stick with one of the reputable compatible makers such as Everex, Epson, Sun Moon Star, Northgate or Headstart.
IBM's new PS/1 is an excellent home computer. The hard disk-equipped model, with a suggested price of nearly $2,000, is a lot more expensive than many similarly equipped compatibles, but the machine is well designed with a reasonably fast Intel 80286 central processing unit, a 30-megabyte hard disk, a megabyte of memory and built-in modem. Your neighborhood Radio Shack store is offering the Tandy 1000 RL, an $800 home computer with 512K of memory and a 720K floppy drive. The model with a 20-megabyte hard drive costs $1,100. The machine comes with a lot of useful home software, but its CGA display is harder to read than today's higher resolution VGA screens, and its Intel 8086 processor makes the machine slow by today's standards.
You don't even need a computer to appreciate the Original Chocolate Byte or the Original Chocolate Computer. These gifts, which start at $10.95, are compatible with anyone who has a sweet tooth and a sense of humor. Call 1-800-332-2983.
Finally, here is a gift for someone who hates to walk away from the computer, even when it's time to go to bed. Would you believe SpreadSheets bed linens that are designed to look like tractor feed-type printer paper? There are twin and queen-size compatible versions starting at $45 per set. For information or to order, call BedWare Unlimited at 408-395-1622.
Readers' comments are welcomed, but the author cannot respond individually to letters. Write to Lawrence J. Magid, 3235 Kifer Rd., Suite 100, Santa Clara, Calif. 95051, or contact the L. Magid account on the MCI electronic mail system.