Home for the Holidays 

Shopping on the Net makes the Christmas season tolerable again

Shopping on the Net makes the Christmas season tolerable again

There’s something about the Christmas holidays I find distasteful. No matter how cheerful I may appear to be, the truth of the matter is, I secretly dread the return of Christmas every year.

I suppose it started on Oct. 30, 1995, when I walked into a Nashville department store looking for a new jacket. Upon entry, I discovered that instead of Halloween decorations, the store’s centerpiece was a bright red-and-green Christmas display touting all the neat new Christmas specials. The sign on the display read, “Only 57 Shopping Days Until X-mas!”

The ghastly, too-soon appearance of this marketing Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come was amplified by the sounds of jubilant carolers singing “Jingle Bells” over the store’s public address system, only it sounded like they were singing from the bottom of a well. My God, it wasn’t even Halloween yet! And, what’s worse, they’d opted to skip completely the holiday between Halloween and Christmas!

Granted, grocery stores make more money from Thanksgiving and Halloween than do stores that sell clothes or electronics. But all this Christmas marketing simply comes too early for me to generate any kind of festive spirit. I imagine the throngs of angry shoppers in local malls. I imagine the parking lots jammed with Nashville drivers, some of whom would sooner kill a pedestrian than give up a potential parking space close to the door.

Every year, I’m more certain that my epitaph will one day read: “Killed while attempting to sneak a Beanie Baby purchase by a group of holiday-hungry grandmothers.” Indeed, since this year’s advertising blitz started on Nov. 1, I’ve been dreading holiday shopping, knowing full well the force of the temper-trying tension that awaits me in local stores.

That’s why, this year, I’m going to do my shopping on the Internet. And, according to a recent poll conducted by Dell Computer Corp. and Louis Harris & Associates Inc., I am not alone. Reuters news service, reporting on the poll, said that “43 percent of Americans who use computers said they were likely to shop on the Internet this holiday season.” That’s a 330-percent increase over last year’s figure.

Speaking as a fan of Internet commerce, I find this figure encouraging. Over the past year, I’ve delved quite happily into the world of e-commerce. I’ve purchased books, software, and even computer hardware all through a few mouse clicks on various Web sites. I’ve explored the potential of each product through online descriptions. I’ve compared prices without ever leaving my chair. I’ve even bought a few items for considerably less than their original value by visiting some of the online auction houses that have become so popular as of late.

It’s a wonderful world, this place of electronic commerce. And it’s absolutely ideal for people like me, who must buy gifts but need to restrain the urge to trip fellow shoppers who tick them off.

So for those of you who hate people or who want to avoid the murderous holiday shopping mobs, here are a few tips for Internet shopping:

Know what you’re looking for

Internet shopping isn’t exactly like browsing a department store. Most of the shops in cyberspace are specialized in some form or another. If you’re looking for music, visit a music site. But before you log on, you might consider making a list of what you’re looking for. That way, you won’t wander aimlessly through cyberspace, never finding the gifts you need.

Be aware of shipping time

Unlike shopping at the neighborhood mall, buying on the Internet often requires shipping your product over great distances. Most online stores will tell you how long they expect your order to take. So make certain you’ve given yourself enough time before you actually have to present someone with their holiday gift.

Trust your source

Security on the Internet is a big issue. Just because a vendor presents a form for credit card numbers on his or her Web site doesn’t mean that site is trustworthy. Take some time to check into the outfit. Many of the more reputable online stores now offer a security “guarantee”—proof that they’ll protect your credit card/personal information. Look for something in writing before you buy.

Keep track of your purchases

Many online stores allow you to print out a receipt, complete with shipment tracking information. Make sure you get something similar so you don’t forget where you bought what, or to whom you owe money. That way, you won’t be so surprised when the credit card bill arrives and the New Year debt blues set in.

Breathe a sigh of relief

Your shopping was done on your lunch break at work, or during your favorite Internet RealAudio broadcast, or while you were checking the latest news updates. And you got it done fast.

Of course, some people will always prefer going to the mall after work, or coming up with last-minute gift ideas on Christmas Eve. Some people enjoy unfriendly cashiers, rude shoppers, and the heavily marketed Christmas cheer. To those, I say gas up the car and go. Not everything in today’s society has to be done electronically.

But for those of us who savor peace and quiet over holiday madhouses, the Internet may be the greatest Christmas blessing of all.

The end of “Wintel”?

It’s highly unlikely that Microsoft would ever stop developing its operating-system software for the Intel family of computer processors. But that’s exactly what Intel says Microsoft CEO Bill Gates threatened if the processor company didn’t stop development on multimedia software that would enhance and improve audio and video performance on desktop PCs.

Intel is no computer industry small-timer. In fact, it too is the subject of a government antitrust investigation—one entirely separate from the current investigation into Microsoft’s business practices. The government claims Intel may have a Microsoft-like monopoly on the computer processor market, shutting out competitors like AMD and Motorola processors.

But for now the focus is on Microsoft. According to testimony from Intel executives in the Microsoft antitrust case last week, Gates became “very upset” when he learned that Intel was working on its audio/video software project. He was afraid, witnesses said, that Intel was moving in on Microsoft’s “turf” and that such multimedia software would render the Windows operating system less important to software consumers.

Microsoft, of course, denies the claims.

Intel vice president Steven McGeady added that Microsoft revealed to Intel its plans to push Netscape out of the Web browser market by introducing subtle changes to HTML—HyperText Markup Language, used to format pages on the World Wide Web—that would keep the Netscape Navigator browser from viewing some Web content.

The whole Apple

Two weeks ago, Microsoft was accused of purposefully creating problems in Apple’s QuickTime software on the Windows platform. Apple executives say the company attempted to sabotage the QuickTime software after Apple refused to drop development of QuickTime, a popular multimedia software program long developed and supported by Apple.

Microsoft has continually to denied the allegations, even though last week it released a “bug fix” for its Windows operating system. The company says the update resolves bugs that are located in the Apple QuickTime software.

This isn’t the first time this has happened: According to a report at http://www.msnbc.com, Microsoft mounted a similar defense when RealNetworks accused the company of sabotaging the RealPlayer Internet multimedia software from within the Windows operating system.

Call James at 244-7989, ext. 272, or e-mail him at jhanback@nashvillescene.com.

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