Guy Kewney's Diary

MondayThe big launch! Psion hits back at Microsoft!

Well, not quite: this is the stop-gap machine, with the "real" one arriving, say sources, in January. They call that "The Java machine" internally, and it may well have a StrongArm processor, Java Virtual machine, and lots of other exciting stuff. This project is designed to respond to Microsoft's launch of Windows CE.

But why? What has Microsoft done to Psion?

No, I'm not joking. As far as I can see, all the sales of Win CE can be attributed to heat-seekers (people with more money than sense, who must have the latest gimmick) and no real market has emerged. So what we want to know is: why has Psion responded?

We arrive in force at the old National Liberal Club, now just an address in Whitehall Place; in the library, we find ourselves listening to Dr David Potter who expertly explains why the Series 5 is the world's best portable computer.

The figures he claims justify this don't actually explain what he's doing. If you look at market segments, it's clear that Psion's Series 3 has the biggest single share of the world pocket computer market - around 26 per cent. Next biggest is Casio and Pilot, each with around 25 per cent, more or less. As far as I can tell, Windows CE doesn't yet register on the radar; Apple's Newton has around five per cent and is easily the next biggest single blip.

Logically, Psion should look at trends. The Pilot is a year old, and has already caught up with the Series 3, which is nearly six years old. What does this tell us about the relative "rightness" of each design? But Psion has ignored the message - which is: "Stuff the keyboard! I want something SMALLER!" and has produced something bigger.

There's an explanation which makes sense, sort of: the fact is that the Series 3 is "quirky" in use. Its user interface is complex and strange. And Windows CE is simpler to understand: so Psion has launched something that is simpler to understand than Series 3, and more powerful than CE. And the fact that the world wants a Pilot-sized box hasn't eluded them (they say) - but they aren't going to be the one to build it.

Tuesday

Today was the day I was supposed to find out who Steve Reynolds is. He's at the centre of the new Psion-based machine which someone else is launching; it's a licensed version of the EPOC-32 operating system that is "the important part" of the Series 5.

Apparently, they've decided not to announce. Not yet. No date. But it's definitely the case that they will.

The Psion Series 5 connects to my PC, and I transfer files across. To my dismay, the Word files arrive in Microsoft Office in triplicate. Each sentence arrives cut in half, three times; the third time, it continues on to the end. I'm baffled.

The afternoon is spent trying to find out the latest version of Adaptec SCSI software. It turns out that they have got version 5.0 in beta; this is the one that handles rewriteable media. "Oh," says I, fascinated. "You mean DVD?"

No, they don't. They think DVD will take off in the PC arena long before it takes off in the consumer area; and they think we should wait another two years before the PC business takes off. Simple reason: it's very much more expensive, but if you produce DVD media, nobody can read it. Easier to produce two CDs.

They also have a neat bit of software which takes your audio input from your old turntable. So you play your LP, and when it's finished you have a CD transcription of it. I want one! "We don't sell hardware," they tell me regretfully.

Bah.

Wednesday

The other shoe falls, at last: Gateway 2000 is buying ALR.

The other shoe, of course, is networking. The high-profit area of the PC business is servers. Right now, people are buying standard Gateway PCs and using them, sometimes with difficulty, as NetWare and NT servers. Then they are running out of steam, and having to switch to Compaq and Dell.

So ALR, a struggling company with a great R&D centre, has come up with a lovely six-way server design, which it can't sell to corporate buyers. The reason is simple: credibility. Who's ever heard of ALR? Those of us who have, have evil memories of five or six years ago, when several dud machines were launched - and all the care and consistency since hasn't repaired that reputation. So ALR is cheap to buy; the shares, that is. So Gateway has bought it for a song.

So Gateway is now free to go into servers. Watch this space.

The day doesn't get much further than this, though: somewhere between high pollen count, tummy bug, and dehydration, the body corporate which is Kewney fails to function properly, and instead of lunch with Microsoft's chief technologist, painkillers permit sleep. Sleep wipes out the afternoon. And much of Thursday too.

Friday

It's all systems PANIC! Next week is Networks '97 in Birmingham. Hey ho for the pollen train through Bedfordshire, dammit.

Louise Lindop, our network guru, says she isn't actually looking forward to Networks: "It's going to be horribly boring Network PCs," she grimaces. "Also, lots of Gigabit Ethernet stuff, I suspect."

Key events: Compaq is launching its networking strategy plus a wodge of PC products for the next six months. Adaptec will do a round table briefing from which good stuff is expected: it will be held by senior key execs, from Compaq, Cisco, 3Com and so on - storage and networking technologies... that's at 5pm Tuesday.

Olicom will be doing a thing about Crosscom, and how they will roll that in. They both do switches; one range of products will be a challenge. Most companies don't manage it very well.

Siemens GEC is setting up an integrated computer and phone network; first time they have said they'll show integrated voice data system. It may work; it will be interesting, either way.

Someone called IPTV software, has invited us to view video streaming over TCP/IP data networks, Integralis showing this or something related in Hall 9. People seem to think this is good for training. I think it's a waste of bandwidth, but what do I know?

Bay Networks is buying Rapid City, proprietary startup Gigabit Ethernet will be at Networks as Rapid City, without any mention of Bay. I think...

Oh yes, there will be 56k modems everywhere. Multitech will be showing Multiport modem cards and Oracle will be pushing Oracle Eight, launched globally Tuesday. I think this is Oracle's response to SAP, but let's see.

Have a good weekend, and don't count on watching any cricket till Monday. I shall be in a darkened room with wet rags on my eyes, breathing through a pollen filter...

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