Guy Kewney's Diary

Hay Fever week, not in Sweden, not sailing

Monday

... was going to be the day I got EVERYTHING done. No appointments, no distractions. Instead, I find the industry in uproar because Intel is reporting "disappointing" profits.

Why is this a surprise? Most of the industry observers have been watching Intel drive the car into this cul de sac for a year. I know I have written a dozen columns, pointing out that:

1) No, Intel didn't deliberately hold MMX back so as to let Dixons sell off old Pentium stock; the chip wasn't ready

2) No, the new 200MHz Pentium Pro isn't any faster than a 180MHz Pentium

3) No, the "Klamath" or MMX-equipped Pentium Pro, can't be made cheaply with a heat sink that would embarrass a motorbike

4) No, you don't need a modern PC to get onto the Web; any old crap will do

5) No, you don't need a plant the size of Intel's silicon fab to come up with the AMD K6

6) No, the amount of money Intel spends on R&D doesn't make its chips that much faster than Cyrix chips.

In short, everybody who knew the first thing about the silicon business knew that the industry was in slowdown; and Intel is the only company in the world which can't escape the consequences of a slowdown; and Intel has spent its time trying to undermine its rivals, instead of trying to ward off those consequences. And still, so powerful is their Faith in the Intel Totem, the finance people are surprised that it lost margin.

It's a fine day for Roland Perry, who in the morning is managing director of CIX, and by the afternoon, is consulting his legal representatives. Everybody agrees he's been fired, but the owners of the company resolutely refuse to say why. Some members of staff, who witnessed the ceremony, ring in to keep me up to date. Apparently.

[LEGAL NOTE: The following three paragraphs have been deemed actionable, and have been archived, pending resolution of the situation]

At which point he went home.

The problem, of course, is that Roland Perry was expected to turn a declining online service into a booming one, growing at 50 per cent a month, in an industry increasingly dominated by CompuServe and America Online. The reason the owners are not content to pocket their dividends and just keep it going is simple: they wish to sell up, and retire.

Chatting to industry luminaries, it seems that a "sensible" price for CIX would be around £200,000; but that if you put a very, very optimistic valuation on its goodwill and potential growth, it might be possible to talk someone with deep pockets out of ten times that. An offer of £2 million was due to be discussed this week, says one consultant.

Apparently, the owners want £7 million.

Tuesday

All hell breaks loose. The American administrators of our Notes network want us to update our servers for mail purposes. In the process, the incoming Internet mail process dies, and its festering corpse isn't discovered for a couple of days. By that time, many messages have arrived, been told "Nobody home! Go away!" and been returned to their senders.

According to the Novell-inspired survey, more than half of the UK's corporate e-mail users suffer from heavy bullying via their mailboxes. Yes, actually, I believe that; on any occasion where I've had to deal with a superior about a tricky situation, using e-mail has been a disaster. It gives your boss the opportunity to denounce you for disputing his instructions when you are actually asking questions; the opportunity to take legitimate complaints as personal attacks on the company, and the opportunity to simply ignore any messages which displease them, or which show you to deserve compensation for misbehaviour by the corporation.

No bullying today, though. Mail is down. Well, that's as much as the boss is going to know: my own mail, diverted through guy@kewney.com, reaches me a few hours behind normal, with Notes-generated artefacts like the letter Q at random intervals. In despair, I abandon my desk and head off to work from home, preparing for the ISDN installation.

Wednesday

Fat lot of good that did. It turns out that voice mail is dead, too; a message from Electronic Frontier was left (says Chris at Frontier) and it said that someone else would arrange the ISDN installation. But that message has been dumped into the ether, along with everything else relating to yesterday's phone system.

Microsoft and Xerox both call with news of invites. Today. Sometimes, you wonder about marketing people. Of course I like to meet people from Microsoft; of course I like meeting people from Xerox. But my diary for today is full, and has been for two weeks. My feet literally won't touch the ground, and that's without actually getting to more than half the things I've promised to try to reach.

Compaq starts the day with its workstation launch. A freak of timing means I miss it, because I'm acting under the information (wrong) that BT's videoconferencing show starts at 10. In fact, they don't get going until 11:15, in a joint announcement of 30 frames/second video with Intel. And what a waste of time!

We did some usability testing on videoconferencing, a year or so ago. Our Labs staff concluded that no product then on the market was usable. Users couldn't manipulate Windows windows, and lost their tempers on a grand scale. Application sharing, yes; video conferencing, no - and that was just with a two-person meeting. With three or four people involved, it became a farce. This announcement really doesn't change anything; you just get better quality video. Hooray...

Incautiously, perhaps, I share my cynicism about videoconferencing with a BT exec. I regard the presence on my PC screen, of a two-inch square image of what might well be another human face, as a hazard. I'd rather just hear the voice. "Ah, yes; we're doing very, very well with voice conferencing," he says, and goes on to invite me to a launch of a new moderated voice conference service to be released next month.

The next session is a pre-release briefing by Psion. It has offices opposite Selfridges. Getting there turns out to be quite a chore; it's not a long journey from the Cafe Royal at Piccadilly Circus end of Regent Street to Selfridges at the Marble Arch end of Oxford Street, but the road is littered with cars and buses. They are attempting to travel, and failing.

On arrival at Selfridges corner, I find two orange-clad Greenpeace protesters on the roof of a small shop over the road. All around the base of the building are police, sticky tape, and barriers. Two guys with a banner. Response: "The Riot Squad!"

Psion: Exactly what they told me has to stay secret till next week, but I can tell you that I came away greatly relieved to find that what software developers were saying, was wrong. The software is significantly improved over the old Series 3c. But boy, are these folks in for a storm of protest when users of 3c machines discover that both machines, old and new, have infra-red links - but that they can't talk to each other.

Incompatible data formats. Do people really never learn?

Lunch omitted. No time. Quantum meeting: omitted. Long chat with Paul Berry of Simply Computers about the state of the UK market. He agrees with my theory that this summer, some of our largest resellers (system builders, too) are going to go belly-up. Spring sales have been bad for everybody. His own focus on education (he says) has cushioned the impact.

The evening (after a mad session with traffic on a domestic errand in Golder's Green) is spent guest-starring on the Media Zoo, a program brought to listeners of that rare commodity, satellite radio. It goes out Wednesday evenings at 8pm, and is (apparently) popular with workers in the broadcast business. Once a month we have Jennifer Perry talking about the Internet, and any lunatic (me) she can bully into joining in.

For some strange reason, she doesn't talk about CIX, where she and her husband were, till recently, employed. Nor does she want to talk about lawsuits. Frustrating evening.

It ends miserably: I get home at midnight, and discover email; and it turns out Tim Palmer has died. It sounds like a wretched cock-up; he had liver cancer, and they simply failed to diagnose it, discovering it only on the autopsy. Told him he had cirrhosis. Told him to drink less. He never drank. "Well, try to reduce the never you drink," they said.

The obit is here somewhere.

Thursday

Main event of the day is the arrival of a consultant from Lotus, to help me establish a server. Achievement. But the day starts off with breakfast in St James' Club, where I meet Jerry Schwartz of i design, who has an AI-based document layout system, called (cleverly) i design.

The idea is: "write once, publish anywhere." They have templates; you drag and drop text, images, headlines, and produce printable or URL-able pages with a sense of style and corporate identity.

The demo goes brilliantly, and I'm utterly blown away. Then they make the mistake of giving me the software to play with. On arrival at my own PC, it fails to duplicate any of the tricks Jerry showed me. It turns out that "images" is a phrase that doesn't include GIF files. You need TIF or JPEG. I have plenty of TIF files, all boring stuff printed in PC Mag to illustrate screen shots and so on - but they show up as blanks. Wrong TIF, I bet.

Drag-and-drop doesn't. The machine resets itself. Frustration gives way to rage; and Jerry and his London representative, Larry Levy, are both in Munich and unable to answer questions. The software goes to the back of the shelf.

Friday

Toshiba is launching desktop machines. They are pretty ordinary desktop PCs, though they have nice, curved boxes. So instead of making too much fuss about that, they invite us all to an interesting seminar on how the common currency affects European business, and cost-of-ownership.

Fortunately, I miss the cost of ownership presentation. I don't need another cost of ownership presentation, but that's not the reason I missed it: it's probably because I spent last night in a pub, drinking Tim's health... I show up at the Royal Lancaster hotel. Toshiba is actually at the Portman Hotel.

If I don't miss my guess, the UK operation has absolutely no idea of how many of these they're going to sell. But they're busily setting up a contract operation with SCI in Scotland to build them for the whole of Europe.

Some 60 per cent of UK corporations have at least some Toshiba notebooks. Quite a lot of them would quite like to buy desktops from the same source as notebooks; the alternative of buying Compaq is, for some reason, unpopular at the moment in some companies. Nothing wrong with the desktops, they tell me... But the Toshiba desktops come from the American operation, not the Japanese, and I get the impression that London doesn't actually believe all the US hype.

The day ends prematurely. Our Online Editor has some kind of appointment with another human of the female gender, who appears to have warned him not to come late. What can he possibly mean? But orders is orders; so I'll tell you all about DVD some other time...

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