Guy Kewney's Diary

MondayYes, there was a Monday this week. About the only thing I did worth mentioning was have lunch at Claridge's. Nice lunch. Compaq bought it. They were explaining the server market again.

Me, I was just glad to sit down and rest my feet. The Ziff-Davis office is now at International House, 1 St Katharine's Way, London E1 9UN, and last Friday it was the other side of the river. I'm told by my Editor that if I refer to the people who moved our offices the way I did in his hearing -- but in public -- lawsuits will result. A pity; I had developed several synonyms for "incompetent" and "clowns" (including "apathetic" and "idle" and "illiterate") which might perhaps have come in handy.

Suffice it to say that Monday passed without my having a phone, or voice-mail, or a working PC, or a network connection. I went home in a poor mood.

Tuesday

One of my "speaking" days; the Revelation database is moving into the Java era, and to celebrate, the user group is having a seminar. My job: to stand up and summarise the situation. "Just as well," I tell them firmly, "that you didn't ask me to do this presentation last year."

Why?

Because last year, Revelation was gung-ho for the idea of doing everything with Active X. And, like everybody else who has tried the idea of Active X in serious data processing, they were keen on it for no longer than it took to ask: "What about security, then?"

This year, they've seen the light; their software tools for general IT use have been extended to Lotus Notes -- growing fast -- and the Java stuff looks good. We'll see: www.revelation.com for details.

Then off to Microsoft for the rest of the day. It's some announcements about NT 5.0, followed by announcements about Internet Explorer 4.0.

Frankly, if you had told me before the show that IE 4.0 was going to be this bad, I'd have laughed. I knew it was going to be bad, because I knew it hadn't yet tested bug-free. I also knew that it was going to be a disaster, because I knew Microsoft was going to stick new features in, untested, at the last moment. But can you believe what actually happened?

It's documented in one of the beta-test pages of microsoft.com, so you don't have to take my word for it. What Microsoft did was to discover a (serious, very serious) bug. Instead of announcing this, and telling everybody to hold off, postpone the launch, wait till we've fixed it, they decided to fix it secretly.

So there's code on the release CD which goes into your system, reads data from the Windows Registry, and passes it up to microsoft.com. Then it downloads new data, changes the registry, and fixes the bug. Excellent! But it's done "through the back door" says an indignant early-adopter. "I had disabled Active X, I'd set up triple security. It walked through my system as if it had supervisor password. It's a Microsoft-devised Trojan. And if Microsoft can do it, anybody can."

I asked Microsoft for a comment. "We'll get back to you."

Wednesday

Still no phone. I dial into voice-mail, and leave a new message saying: "I haven't got a phone, so call my mobile." It works! Hooray.

So being cynical, I call my new phone number. It just rings. No answer. No voice-mail. "Oh yes, you have to enable voice-mail from your phone," says the admin guru. "What phone?" I ask. "What, you still haven't got a phone?"

Miraculously, I restrain myself from gurucide.

Last week's cock-up with MSN mail gets cured. A nice helpful PR exec called Erin sorts it out; at the end of the ritual, I find myself seriously uncertain as to whether I believe what has happened. But apparently, this problem is endemic to the switch from old-style MSN mail to new-style Post Office Protocol. In other words, anybody who has installed MSN beta 2.5 will probably have had it.

Folks, this means something really weird. It means that despite Microsoft's claims to be the world's flumpty-seventeeth biggest ISP, none of its MSN customers has noticed the failure of e-mail?

One of those must be wrong.

The question about the IE 4 bug spends the day chasing itself up and down the phone lines. The promised comment, however, seems not to have materialised. Of course, it might be in my Lotus Notes email; in which case it's not going to reach a wider audience until they fix my network.

Thursday

The office admin staff have started issuing little plastic dog-tags. You stand in front of the door, wave the tags, and it recognises you and goes "Beep!".

It's very entertaining. A few tiresome sceptics suggest that it isn't, and that the door should open when the beep is emitted. Really, the fantasy world they live in...

Morning coffee with Motorola Computer Group, RIP. They explain, sadly, that they are going to honour all commitments to their Mac clone range, the Starmax -- including a five-year warranty. They add that September, in the European Mac market, was their best-ever month. They agree that this was not the time to close down the operation, and they say that Apple was not telling all the truth when they claimed that Starmax machines were "stolen sales" from Apple.

Viglen, for lunch. They are launching a Microsoft-badged PC.

If Microsoft gets away with this, it will be because of sheer brass neck. "We think the other UK makers of PCs will be very happy to see us produce a Microsoft-brand PC, because we're supporting a UK system builder," says the Man from Oz. He certainly isn't in Kansas, or any part of the planet where Kansas can be found.

Viglen doesn't attempt to conceal its delight. Officially, they say it's a legitimate ruse on their part, a promotional idea, which Microsoft is being very broadminded to endorse. Privately, a source tells me, they reckon they've put one past the rest of the UK industry on a scale not seen since the death of Edward II.

Friday

There is a main entrance to our new offices. It's got marble floors, anodised black frames, stainless steel, and a view of St Katharine's Dock.

There is a "goods entrance" to our new offices. We aren't allowed in it.

People bringing goods, mainly PCs for review, arrive at the goods entrance. They emerge on the fourth floor with their goods, and with pieces of paper requiring signature. In front of them, they find an automatic door. You go to the door and wave at them. They wave their bits of paper back. They seem somewhat excited. You wave your dog tag at the beeper. It goes beep.

The online team, trying to get Internet Explorer installed, find that they can't. The wrong DLLs are on the machines, and the installer program appears to be using them as it replaces them. Naturally, while they are in use, it can't replace them. So it doesn't. But it pretends it has. The system then falls over, "unstable."

The number of people in the goods entrance increases. We wave at them. They inform us that they have a painful condition of the fingernail, especially on the middle finger. At least, I presume that's what they are indicating; one can hear nothing through the door. In return, we make the door go "beep." Surely, this is enough for any normal worshipper? But they seem strangely unhappy about something.

Meanwhile, Intel is under investigation by the Federal Trade Commission. "We knew that," my colleagues tell me, "it's all about Chips and Technologies."

Wrong; this is the old "unfair sales" joke. It is said that some people have complained about coincidences.

A coincidence is like this: you buy Intel chips for years, and then one day, you decide that an AMD or Cyrix chip looks like a better deal for one particular model. By coincidence, the day you announce this, Intel suddenly runs into a shortage of all the other processors you need. By another coincidence, your rivals appear to have foreseen this, and have pre-ordered exactly those chips, because they can get them.

At least, so it is said, in private. In public, say the PC makers, if they quoted chapter and verse on such events, they would be given new career opportunities.

Intel says this is all nonsense, and the FTC will, as last time, vindicate Intel. Last time, nobody could be provided to say, in public, what they tell me in private all the time. I suppose they must be lying to me in private.

We get new dog-tags. The doors now go beep-beep. An excellent sound; a good note to go home on.

Oh, and if you haven't twigged: don't install Internet Explorer version 4.0 on your own main PC. We'll let you know when it works. Until then, stick to IE 3.01.

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