Do you remember your first time? No, not that - and if anyone still thinks www.ourfirsttime.com is legit, I have genuine pictures of Bill Clinton studying Exodus 20:14 for sale - but your first time on the Net? Mine was messy, confusing yet ultimately incredibly rewarding (oh, do shut up at the back there), but it took a good few hours fighting unfriendly software and strange new ideas - a subnet mask, you say?
Now, it's just a matter of loading some software, plugging in a modem and getting the credit card ready. And BT is proposing to make it even easier, by letting you log onto the Net and getting the time charged straight to your phone bill. No authorisation required. Convenient? Certainly? Bad? Yes, say the existing ISPs, who can't compete with that sort of system. And yes, say those who worry about security. With no credit card check, anyone can create an account any time they like and do what they like with little fear of reprisal - and you can do a great deal of damage in a couple of hours on the Web, if you're skilled in the art. BT claims it has security measures (which it can't talk about) to stop this sort of thing, but in my experience security measures you can't talk about are generally flawed or absent.
There's another option. Nobody is obliged to accept an IP packet: if BT's service does cause problems, there's nothing to stop the other Internet companies from filtering out those packets and just not forwarding them to their destination. The ghettoisation of the Net would be a terrible thing to see, but unless BT takes care it may well happen.
I have lived through strange times. I have seen, done and even gargled with things that make peculiar seem like a pretty normal word. Yet my sense of the surreal went off the deep end today when I learned that Philippe Kahn, founder of Borland (now Inprise) and current owner of Starfish Software, is to join board of Motorola when the latter buys the former. Kahn is one of the most colourful characters ever to grace the industry: party animal (don't mention the togas), sax player and creator of ebullience by the lorryload. Motorola is an electronics company of the old school. Imagine Brian Blessed joining the Law Lords, and I don't think you'll be far wrong.
It'll do Moto the world of good. The company is suffering from - oh, let's be honest - an inability to make good products. I've got a phone it made: the user interface is something I'd have rejected in a ZX81 program. (The electronics is fine: that's not good enough, these days). Whatever it is Motorola makes, someone else makes it better. Kahn understands users. He thinks like a software marketeer: he's lived through the Web explosion where the experience of the user defines the success of the product.
And they'll have some great parties.
(IT Week will be interviewing Philippe Kahn next week. I wonder if he'll sign my copy of his CD...)
Another publication has a big splash on its front cover: Win98 "not Y2K compliant". Coo. On the surface, it looks like a good story - they even have the product manager from Microsoft making abject noises.
Dig a little deeper, though, and it all falls apart. There's no bug there: the new feature of Windows 98 that is supposed to cause this panic is in fact a pretty pointless - but still roughly correct - step in the right direction. No new problems are caused, and one day some may be solved. It's hardly a story at all... except that the product manager from Microsoft missed his chance to stamp on it. It was almost as if he didn't quite know what was going on: and that's unthinkable, surely? Microsoft in the US can't be keeping the UK in the dark about anything, can it? Absurd! The very thought!
Unutterably tantalising set of technologies converge on my desktop! Today, I have information about Jini - a Java-based system that lets completely different devices talk to each other and establish links, UMTS, which is going to make mobile comms work at enormous speed, and Universal Access, which lets you log onto the net anywhere in the world and slip into your favourite work environment. In about three years time, we'll be able to access exactly what we want, how we want, where we want - at low cost and minimal fuss. It'll be as unremarkable as wearing a wristwatch - and that's if just the things we've defined already work as planned.
The rate of change in the next decade is going to make the 90s seem like a leisurely stroll through a Cornish village. Unless economic collapse is just around the corner, in which case the next decade will be a leisurely stroll through a Cornish village, at least for me.
Bored? Try finding any mention of the word "Digital" on the AltaVista main page. Or try asking 3Com: "You said that you'd be launching your USB modem in the UK when Windows 98 came along. Here's Windows 98. Where's your modem?." Or try installing Notes on a laptop... no, nobody can be that bored with life. I've been doing it for three days now. It's poo. I'm going home.