Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Wossat? Hayes and Microsoft doing The Microsoft Modem?

Wossat? Hayes and Microsoft doing The Microsoft Modem? Since Viglen got the rights to make The Microsoft PC, there's not much left that remains unbadged. No Microsoft printer paper yet... but given that everyone knows that consumables make much more money than hardware sales, I'd expect to see that on the market before long. And of course, once the company gets the taste for paper products where will it end? Hankies -- Microsnot brand? Cigarette papers? Andrex equivalents?

Come to think of it, there's definitely a market for one of the above...

In an entirely unrelated incident, Marks & Spencer have introduced a range of ladies undergarments made out of a lycra/nylon mix called microsoft. MS sent the lawyers in, but an agreement has been reached -- after all, nobody could ever mistake any of Seattle's finest software for pants.

Tuesday

Another Editors' Day! The entire editorial team of PC Magazine troop up to Watford (pausing only to admire Euston Station for rather longer than expected, due to Virgin Railways cancelling our train) and decant ourselves into the Watford Hilton. Yes, there's a Watford Hilton.

Editors' Days involve us meeting loads of vendors who tell us, in secret, of their products and plans. They get to ask us questions about the magazine in return, and we lay on lunch, seminars and sneak attacks by the advertising sales teams.

Highlights for me included a touch-sensitive digitising whiteboard -- draw in it as normal, and it relays the pen movements down a serial port to a connected PC. It was very clever, worked a treat and could even act as a 12-square-foot Windows desktop. Here, you use a video projector to put the desktop onto the whiteboard, and it turns any touches into mouse movements. Tremendous fun, especially with paint programs -- now you can paint on the wall with your fingers and nobody's going to tell you off!

Oh, and we shared the hotel with Wimbledon Football Club. They left just after we arrived - hey, nobody wants to tangle with the hard men and women of the computer magazine industry -- but had to return 'cos Vinny Jones had left his mobile phone at reception.

Wednesday

Big event today! No, not Microsoft being keelhauled by the US Department of Justice over anticompetitive practices, nor even MSN still barely qualifying as alive (the tales of the billing system cockups are matched only by the mail, upgrade and access cockups). Not even the story of Microsoft's PR company, Text 100, refusing to send out any more Microsoft review software unless you get a note from your mum -- oops, commissioning editor -- can divert the hard-working team from the main happening: The Boat Party!

So there we are , on HMS President, a couple of hundred IT journalists merrily consuming our way through the liquid assets of Harvard PR. In a first for PR partykind, Harvard has hired comedian Al Murray ("The Pub Landlord", Harry Hill et al) to lambast us halfway through the evening. This leads to some surreal moments in audience participation...

Al Murray: "What separates us from the animals, apart from beer?"

Drunken IT hack: "622 megabit ATM switches!"

Al Murray: "Christ. Why can't you just heckle?"

A veil is best drawn over the rest of the evening, except to note that the boat's bar disposed of three evenings' worth of beer in just over six hours; several Harvard executives were treated to an impromptu discussion of what we really thought of their clients and we suspect that several members of PC Direct's editorial team cast themselves adrift on a lashed-up raft made out of freelancers.

Thursday

Borland is making money! It's wonderful to see the company prosper -- those of us who were around in pre-Window days can remember Sidekick being the best and cleverest piece of DOS software, and the company's development software is still very highly thought of.

Alas for us lovers of the eccentric, the company's recovery is very much at the expense of the Phillippe Kahn tradition -- the larger-than-life, jazz-flute playing CEO who inspired much extravagant weirdness, not to say indulgence. The Borland of today is a buttoned-down company. In similar vein, nearly all of Microsoft's adventures in creative online services have not prospered, and the focus has gone back to bread-and-butter news and features.

It's nice that technology continues to be a prosperous, exciting area; it's a shame that it's increasingly difficult to be anything other than pinstripe.

Friday

AOL has a quarter of a million users in the UK -- a city the size of Plymouth -- and nine million worldwide - London plus most of Kent. 20 per cent of them are female, the company says, which might sound like an awful imbalance but is really surprisingly good. The geeks are in retreat! Earlier this week, I'd been to an AOL meeting in town set up and attended purely by users who'd met online. The demographics were amazingly mixed; it would be almost impossible to find a common strand to those there unless you already knew they were modemed up.

Of course, the really interesting bit was the gossip about who was doing what with who. My discretion in such matters is legendary, but one day someone's going to write one hell of a sitcom...

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