Guy Kewney's Diary

MondayThree jet-lagged Americans (JLAs) from Boston, claiming to be Lotus Notes product managers, attempt to set up a demo of Notes 4.6.

Things start out badly. We're moving offices, and all the meeting rooms are full of unclaimed books, metal frames, the odd plier and scissor and unattached trouser, and no chairs.

The next disaster is that the PR minder for the JLAs arrives on time. This wouldn't matter, if the JLAs were with her; they are about an hour behind the schedule, it turns out. We decide to get on with life (I have Trends to write and the production department is full of anxious-looking people asking "where's the copy?") so it seems like the least I can do to write some. The PR minder books lunch in a Thai restaurant.

The next disaster is that the JLAs have a go at doing the Notes demo in the restaurant. The Thai staff are very distant, but try to be polite and at the same time, and attempt to place the food on the table where the PC is.

The JLAs turn out to be stuck about an hour before breakfast in their metabolisms, and an attempt to extract information about Lotus Notes 4.6 is increasingly frustrated by the discovery that they can't remember anything about it. Does it do Java? "Erm, not sure."

After a few episodes of this, we discover that one of them has a document listing the differences between Notes 4.5 and Notes 4.6. Unaccountably, it doesn't mention the fact that 4.6 needs a 24Mb PC to run all the extras. But it does mention, in grandiose, almost fulsome detail, the Java features -- which are spectacular. "Oh," say the JLAs, feebly toying with satays, as if they imagined a satay might be a culinary implement.

They show us Lotus Intranet Starter Pack. So jet-lagged are they, they forget that LISP is a language, and It Has Been Determined (inside Lotus) that it is now the Domino Intranet Starter Pack, or just the ISP for short. ISP, it seems, isn't a confusing acronym to them.

"But isn't Notes an intranet system? What's Notes intranet?"

Well, it turns out the world thinks Notes is groupware, not intranet. So, rather than argue, they've introduced a "new" version (4.5 is actually the old version) and called it Intranet.

I think the problem must be that I don't understand marketing.

Tuesday

An excited phone call from someone at ATML, makers of low-cost Asynchronous Transfer Mode cards; they are supplying Hayes with ADSL modems.

You have to swallow hard on that one -- it's a bit like the idea of a GSM modem, if you think about it. A GSM phone is digital. ADSL is asynchronous digital subscriber loop. Note the word "digital". A modem is something that takes a digital signal and modulates (and demodulates, hence mod(ulate)dem(odulate)) (too many right brackets) that digital signal. An ADSL modem, therefore, like a GSM modem, must be something that takes a digital signal and modulates it into a digital...

I think I'm going to have to buy a book on marketing.

An excited phone call from someone at Compaq; on voicemail. Please call "Nick" A phone number. I dial it. "Hello, Compaq [or words to that effect]".

I say: "Can I talk to Nick?"

They say: "Yes, who shall I say is speaking?"

I say: "It's Guy Kewney, returning his call"

They say: "And what shall I say it's about?"

Maybe it's not marketing, but phones?

Lunch with a Java nut. I like lunches with Java nuts, even if they are programmers without a budget for buying lunch for a journalist. This one is particularly welcome, because I need a Java expert: Microsoft has just announced that Java is useless crap. Well, not in so many words. Actions, however, speak louder than marketing: Microsoft is tearing down all the Java on Microsoft.com. Zap! Pow!

The story was given in some detail in PC Week -- but the bit I liked was the explanation by Tim Sinclair, editor-in-chief of Microsoft's Web site. He reckons nearly 600 applets have "infested" his system. He's told his webmasters to "get rid of them."

"I made the directive for two reasons," he told PC Week in the US. "Sometimes they are large and downloading [takes a long time]. And we are looking for better compatibility across browsers and other platforms."

It's an explanation that makes interesting reading, coming from a company which is strenuously and continually trying to find ways of tying Web sites to Internet Explorer features, so that they will not display correctly on Netscape. I suspect he must have been reading one of those marketing books, and it's somehow made him cleverer than me.

Wednesday

Hustle, bustle, taxi, tube, and all the venues are in North London. That's where I live! I know. I'll work from home today. God will understand, and break my phone system... yup.

So the mobile gets a caning, which means I spend the day ringing voicemail. And the first message is from an old friend, whom I've not seen in years; and he says: "Hi, Guy! I'd send you e-mail, but it's dead."

The story unfolds only gradually, and involves calling MSN's help desk. Not something you want to do on the day you're stuck with a digital cellphone as your only link to the rest of the planet. Fortunately, I have a Nokia 2110, which can give you more than an hour's talk time. Unfortunately, it's digital; digital phones are really, really bad at "music on hold."

The story, you can find in Kewney's World. Even after researching it, checking it, and rechecking it before writing it three times, I still can't believe that Microsoft did this.

The trouble with MSN -- and I have this on the record, but not for attribution to the guy who told me -- is that it isn't a serious business.

Look at MSN software. It's got menus along the top of the screen, but not where Microsoft Windows puts them. It's not even as "normal" as the Active Desktop rubbish that you get in Internet Explorer 4.0. Things turn red in the bottom corner, orange in the middle. Nobody can work out what's going on; and this isn't incompetence. It's deliberate: and what is going on is market research.

Microsoft knows that Windows isn't the end of the user interface, and that life will go forward. And it also knows that laboratory tests behind one-way mirrors are not the same as trials on Real Users in the Real World.

I put this theory -- that MSN is a way of testing stupid UI ideas on paying lab rats -- to a moderately senior Microsoftie. "Yes, of course: it's our sandbox for testing ideas. And?"

As one of my colleagues (I'd name him, but he works for a rival paper, so pooh to that) put it tersely: "If you're going to do your e-mail through MSN, you get what you deserve. Go sign a contract with a commercial ISP."

The evening ends on the air. Well, in space: Eric Wilsher's Media Zoo is transmitted on Satellite Radio. Only satellite radio technicians can receive this so its prime material is a list of available jobs for satellite broadcast... apparently, best of its breed. There are no others.

Quite fun; the zoo regularly features a guest spot as "Internet auntie" by my old friend Jennifer Perry, emerging from purdah after her short sojourn as marketing director of CIX. She is now doing PR with Purpose (oh, dear, another plug, www.purpose.co.uk -- which probably explains why Eric's guests seem to include some of her clients. And me. I have to advise people on what laptop to buy for programming on trains, why you should NOT attempt to use an analogue cellphone modem when moving, and how to send a fax if you have ISDN. It's one way of getting to bed late, I guess.

Thursday

My Superdisk has broken. I've had any number of people in to fix it, including the folks who came around to demonstrate the nice parallel-port version of the 120Mb floppy. You can stick it on the strangest old notebooks; and it's a full Superdisk, except of course you can't boot from it. They showed it to me, and then, having installed it on my notebook, revealed that it was their only sample.

Then they asked me to write it up as "available now in large numbers". Er, guys...

Anyway, that nice Craig Hatter arrives from OR Technology to fix the Gateway P-120, which is now nearing the end of its career as a triangle-source (Quake, the game, requires a PC that generates lots of triangles). He puts a disk in the dead drive -- the second such he's sent me.

The disk works, just fine.

He must be in marketing, I suppose. What other explanation?

About five minutes after proving, beyond doubt, that the drive which has solidly resisted the efforts of all the other technicians we've had around, not only works but works on the disk that we suspected of being dud, Hatter picks up his bag. I try to make some excuse to keep him here, so that when it breaks down (as I KNOW it will in five seconds) he can repair it. As I open my mouth, the fire alarm goes off.

It's all very well, this prolonged coffee break out by the river side, and the weather is lovely; but the Editor of our Web site wants the Kewney's World story. And he wants it before lunch. And that means my lunch at Claridges is off.

Friday

Domestic trivia. Banks, if you must know.

It does finish, however, in time for lunch. A friend kindly buys me a meal, which is good, because it turns out I've left my wallet, cheque book and credit cards in the car.

So, in exchange, I tell him the story of the MSN e-mail system. "Oh, MSN help desks," he says. "I used to work there. Do you know, Microsoft actually pays them on a time on line basis? Yeah, the longer you dither and keep the punter on the phone, the more money they make."

You'd think, if that was the case, that MSN staff would pose as dimbos, and drag the conversation out, and pretend not to understand quite simple things and... Oh.

Where did I see that book on marketing? I'm sure it must be something I can find someone really clever, to explain it to me.

Kewney's World is at www.zdnet.com/uk/news/kw/

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