EEK. Just two days left. Time running out. No time to think, let alone shop. Need clever, foolproof gift for computer user, minimum hassle. Not software; too confusing, too common. Something solid, like hardware. Aim car toward computer store, dash in, hand column to clerk and point at budget category.
Alternative plan: Loved one spends too much time on computer anyway. Do not encourage with computer gift.
Less than $10:
A can of compressed air for cleaning out the dust bunnies inside a computer case.
A Grateful Dead or Maxfield Parrish mouse pad.
Several packets of 3M Post-it removable diskette labels.
Those of us of a certain age will appreciate a small flashlight or a magnifying glass, because the port labels on the back of the computer have definitely gotten smaller and harder to read in the last couple of years.
Alternative: A movie ticket and box of popcorn, just to get him or her away from the computer for a couple of hours.
$10 to $25:
A 3M Precision Mousing Surface, a wafer-thin mouse pad that creates better traction but does not give mouse the equivalent of belly-button lint.
For road warriors, a lightweight power strip with at least four plug-in outlets and an extra long cord, for hotel rooms that have one measly power outlet on one side of the bed and the phone jacks on the other.
Alternative: A plant lamp and a nice plant, to brighten the desktop and remind loved one that he or she is turning into vegetable.
$25 to $50:
For road warriors, the Kensington Microsaver is a $40 cable and lock system that keeps people from walking away with one's laptop computer, unless they also walk away with the desk to which it is attached, in which case you don't want to try to stop them anyway.
A handsome wooden storage case or tower rack for CD-ROM disks. Music stores often have the best selection.
Alternative: A gift certificate from a bookstore, as long as it is understood that it is not to be used for computer books.
$50 to $75:
For Windows users, a Microsoft Sidewinder Game Pad, a new control device that is ideal for blasting aliens and playing other games where people run around and shoot things. Especially nice for multiplayer games.
Alternative: An hour of professional massage to knead out the knots caused by hunching over the computer all day playing Quake.
No matter how much system memory one has, the best gift is another sweet 16 megabytes of RAM. Wait: First you need to know make, model, and amount of current RAM in recipient's computer.
For game players who want to hear the aliens breathing down their necks, a three-piece set of Labtec Game Series LCS-2612 speakers comes with a subwoofer and 3-D surround-sound technology.
Kensington Turbomouse 5.0 trackball is a fine alternative to a mouse for people who suffer from sore hands and wrists.
Alternative: An hour of psychotherapy to discuss why he or she prefers socializing with strangers on the Internet to being with
No contest: The handiest peripheral of the year is a Zip drive from Iomega or Epson, typically sold for $200 with a $50 mail-in rebate. Great for backup or hard disk expansion or both.
For Internet surfers, a 33.6-kilobit-per-second modem is the fastest way to travel online these days without making the
expensive jump to ISDN. The U.S. Robotics Sportster V.34 28.8/33.6 Fax Modem ($170) is the modem of choice.
Alternative: A good pair of walking shoes and a stick, for getting LTC loved one out and about.
Up to $500:
Visioneer Paperport VX ($300), sort of a printer in reverse, allows user to scan in a page of paper, or business cards or newspaper articles, and convert them to text files. A SCSI adapter is an extra $70 or so.
The Palm Pilot 1000 ($299) from U.S. Robotics is the best in the so-called personal digital assistant category, and fits in shirt pocket. There is a new version for Macintosh users, too.
Hewlett-Packard 870se color inkjet printer ($500), superb color for Mac or Windows, really fast, does not take up much desk space.
Jaz drive from Iomega, the Zip's bigger, faster sibling ($500), holds a gigabyte of data on a single cartridge. Backing up 1,000 megabytes takes about five minutes.
Alternative: A weekend in the country, someplace where there are no phones, no faxes, no television, and especially no computers.
Pub Date: 12/23/96