Rupert Goodwins' Diary

A load of Americans come over to Europe and tell us we've not been very good at keeping up with technology, but we're getting better now. Thanks, Frank Gens of IDC.

A load of Americans come over to Europe and tell us we've not been very good at keeping up with technology, but we're getting better now. Thanks, Frank Gens of IDC. Of course, the real reason is that the US technical and financial communities has belatedly realised that with Asia and Russia down the pan, there might actually be a market in the EU worth cosseting after all.

Thing is, e-commerce is fine and dandy but it makes more sense as communications prices go down. If you ever want to see grown men and women weep, try asking any company with offices in the UK and elsewhere in Europe just how much they're paying for their comms infrastructure. If anyone out there wants to make a serious killing, get the funding together (half a billion should do) and get out there to build a new trans-European fibre network. You'll need a third of the dosh for the holes in the ground, a third for the buildings, bits and bods, and the final third to keep the entrenched telcos at bay. EuroQwest, your time has come.

Tuesday

Lovely figures from ECTS -- and no, that's not an unreconstructed comment about the barely-dressed models which the games companies use to titillate the nerds. Did you know that Tomb Raider made as much money as The Full Monty, and that UK companies account for 12% of the US games market? UK films only scrape together 3% of the US cinema market. And there are plenty of UK people in the US games industry too -- it's a huge success story, and one that's never reported.

Where does all this come from? Most of the seriously good games writers I know got there by figuratively pulling apart their cheap little 8-bit microcomputers and spending their teenage years shaving clock cycles from three kilobyte assembler subroutines. You can't do that these days: Windows 95 is technologically opaque, even to people who understand computers, and the last time I could sketch out the memory map for the display of a computer was in the days of EGA. If we're to carry on grabbing the imagination of the next generation of high-earning geeks, we really should find a way to expose the throbbing heart of the computer to their curious gaze.

Wednesday

Twelve down, thirty six to go. Poor old Globalstar is trying to be a competitor to Iridium in the satellite telephone business, but while Iridium sent its 60-odd constellation fleet of orbiting telephone exchanges up in batches of six or seven, Globalstar will compress everything into just four launches. The first batch of twelve went up today from the Ukraine but only briefly.

Something went wrong with the second stage of the booster, and twelve satellites rapidly turned into a rather fine firework display. Collapse of share price, in come the vultures. Iridium is doing much better, but is still a way away. It's got all its satellites up and has had hundreds of staff making thousands of phone calls. And discovering thousands of bugs: instead of the big service start on the 23rd, it's going to let 2000 early adopters on. They'll pay $3 a minute -- but if you want to call them from a BT phone, it'll cost you nearly six quid a minute. Wow.

And meanwhile, the portable phones that Iridium uses have been unveiled. Since the last time I saw a prototype, they ve sprouted a huge aerial all thick, lumpy on top and silvery. Bizarre. You couldn't fit it in a pocket.

Thursday

Unheard of events pile up on each other today as BT breaks all records. First, the press office actually call me back: second, they find the person within the company that I want to talk to; third, he calls me back and finally -- I hope you're sitting down -- BT says sorry.

As well it should. It's been caught bang to rights, flogging its new Click service by spotting customers who dial ISPs through checking their phone bills. Naughty, naughty. But, says BT, it was just a maverick saleswoman acting on her own initiative.

Nobody I talk to believes this for a second. BT is asking us to believe that a lone saleswoman recognises an ISP number on someone's phone bill -- not any of the big guns neither, but Cix with its elite 15,000 users -- and then concocts a perfectly normal telesales script, and then has a pile of Click CD-ROMs she's able to cause to be sent out. All on her own, like telesales people do. No marketing has been done on Click, said the spokesman, who couldn't have seen www.btclick.net.

Presumably our telesales woman has a little CD-ROM burning operation to back things up.

Anyway. If you don't fancy paying an extra 1p/min for Click you will soon be able to get free Internet access and not pay a penny for it www.connectfree.co.uk has the promises -- and I'll report back when everything's running. If it ever does, of course: the service was supposed to have launched a month ago, and their Web site is full of broken stuff.

Friday

A hush falls over the Internet, as a billion people quietly take a note of the URLs for the Monica Lewinsky Memorial Download. I'm writing this three hours before the Starr report goes live: you'll read it many hours afterwards -- that's if the Net isn't a smoking ruin. President Clinton, eh? What a man. He can even make the Net go down but he should've paid more attention to that terribly useful DOS command -- DELETE Starr.Starr.

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