Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday

Like many an ageing anorak, I affect a world-worn mien when confronted by technology. Can I get excited by the latest Windows utility to organise my hard disk? Another 56k modem? The latest revision of Office? Hardly. Sometimes, though, the old fervour comes back. ADSL has sparked the latest example: on paper, it looks a damn good proposition. 6Mb across ordinary phone lines 24 hours a day at a cost of £200 a modem and £40 a month? Want it? I do!

Of course, it's not that simple. First of all, there are two competing 'standards', DMT and CAP, which don't work together but provoke much vituperation from the opposing camps. Then, the telephone companies here and in the US have been doing quite a lot to stop it ever happening except on their terms; in the US, the various telcos have been accused of knobbling lines, dragging their feet and generally not supplying the goods, and over here BT is telling nobody about anything - at least while it tries to milk ISDN for as much as it can.

Now Rockwell is muddying the waters. Today, it announced CDSL - yet another incompatible version, slower but with some good points. Few technical details have yet been forthcoming, mind, and it seems to be a pre-emptive strike at a new ITU standard that's being discussed. Will it let others use the technology freely? Probably not: and so others will develop competing standards. This is a rerun of 56k modems, where politicking and bluster has led to the whole market being poisoned: I bet if Rockwell, Lucent and USR/3Com had agreed an interoperable standard, they'd all have sold a ton more modems by now.

Who gets hurt? We do, and so do the companies involved. We could have our own personal megabit pipes by now, if foresight and openness had won over crabbed competitiveness and paranoia. The former led to the Internet and much joy for all; the latter... well, ask IBM and Apple about the latter.

Gah!

Tuesday

It's still happening! After Princess Diana and the (strangely evanescent) Wall St Crash, the sad case of young Louise Woodward is the latest media hoo-hah to send the Web into spasm. It's great that the judge will publish his verdict on the Web; not so good that he announced the site well before time and thus caused the now-familiar total lockup of all routes west.

Apparently, he was persuaded to do this by his Net-crazy son. Perhaps the Judgelet could bone up on mirror sites next time before pushing his gavel-wielding father into cyberspace.

Wednesday

I tried. Really, I tried. But when you're a big company trying to sell your products on the grounds of their reliability, scalability and utility, and your flagship service running on those products hasn't worked right since day one, you're going to have to accept that oiks like me will be unable to resist the temptation to write about you.

Yes, it's MSN. No, it's not working. In the middle of the campaign to get 10 million new software version CDs out, the ability to let new users sign up is broken. As it has been for two days. As it was a fortnight ago. Unkinder souls than I would call this online service's record a dog, but I suspect that any canine with such a medical history would've made that final trip to the vet a while ago.

Thursday

The day starts in an exciting way as a small incident with PC Direct's production department, a piece of toast and a fire alarm results in evacuation of the entire building. What a way to meet the new neighbours...

Meanwhile back on AOL, what started as an annus horribilis seems to be turning out for the best. Remember the pain and anguish over the switch to fixed-price? The engaged lines, the lawsuits and the bad publicity have drifted into folk memory to be replaced by today's announcement of $19 million profit in the quarter up to the end of Sept 30, a takeover of old enemy CompuServe and the latest wheeze - a competition to find the replacement for the 'You've got mail' voice. That's in the US, of course: over here, Joanna Lumley will continue to be sufficient for all purposes until the heat death of the universe. Got that, AOL? Good.

(By the way, AOLsters should pop along to keyword ZDUK on Thursday evenings at 7:30, where they can indulge in real-time chat with a selection of our finest journalists. Who knows what you'll find out...)

Friday

All day meeting at PC Magazine, where the sandwiches lie thick upon the table, the sun shines wanly in through the blinds of the boardroom and we discuss matters of Great Importance. Can't say exactly what was discussed, but... well, look out for some very significant changes in the near future. We've been doing things the same way for nearly six years now, and it could well be time for something new.

Some small revelations: PC Magazine was originally modelled on 'Cosmopolitan' and 'Car and Driver' (really! "Only without the orgasms and emphasis on leather interiors", we were told), and during a discussion about acronyms we educated Bob Kane, American Ed-in-Chief, as to what VPL really means. Perhaps we'll get it into a feature table yet...

(oh, of course you know. No? Visible Panty Line, the scourge of the sleekly fashionable. Don't say ZDNet UK isn't educational.)

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