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Readers not surprised PCs are being flung about and Chris Long's MP3 column gets some stick too. What's wrong with Europe? ZDNet readers tell us why...

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Story: Rage against the machine

Dear Mailroom

Little wonder there is this growing phenomenon when you look at the design of hardware and software for the PC, or UNIX, or Linux, or Apple Mac that initially designed for the US market and has minor 'additions' for the non-US users. What we end up with is a hotch-potch of useless wizards that actually prevent the user doing what he/she wants/needs to do in the way they need to do it!

Consider a Word Processor package. What is it for? Typing text and perhaps laying out a page of text with some illustrations. Put a wizard in and you have to fight against it to type in the English style instead of the US style.

Software has been written to be country specific far too much. All seems to be US-style oriented and the giants (Microsoft, etc) deliberately ignore the input of non-US users. MS offered an Office 2000 beta program to US testers for $19.99, about £14 sterling. But in the UK, MS offered it for £159.99!!! a difference of 1142% !!!

So is it really surprising we get angry when we can't do what we need to do? Who do we take it out on? The IT department? They are as bemused as we are by the software and they do not use it regularly either! They can't re-write it for you so they can't fix it either! All they can do is make nice noises, ... sometimes.

Mike Perry


Story: MP3, yeah right

Dear Mailroom

I'll keep this short and to the point -- since when did Vinyl, Metal Oxide(tape) or Philips compact disc technologies have riding along with their formats (however good or better the quality) the possibility that you could get ANY recording EVER made for FREE.

Call it piracy, theft, whatever, that's a whole other discussion. If people know how to get them (they do) then they will, they'll convert them back to wave and write them to CD in a lot of cases until the hardware makers see that they should create MP3 car stereos and MP3 stack systems, I'll smirk when I see a Bang & Ollufsen MP3 unit ;)

Mark, (computer technician)


Story: as above

Dear Mailroom

Yes of course the current crop of MP3/Digital music players are not going to set the world on fire; these are just first generation products -- however you seem to have missed the point.

Music has now become so easy to transfer between people that, whether there are laws in place to protect copyright or not, people will still do it.

Handheld devices -- not the Diamond Rios -- but the Palm-size PCs / Palms etc are going to drive it. You can already zap a file from one to another via Infra-red. The Casio E100 will be the first in long line of handhelds to do play music and transfer it better than any walkman to date ....

Even today it's so easy to bulk email 500 people a copy of the latest hit, just as an attachment -- there is a large and rapidly growing group of people on private lists, sharing their fave tunes and gathering substantial illegal MP3 collections

If fact there is now a whole generation under the age of 25 that believe music is free, and the record companies are not going to be able to change their minds...once free, always free.

But it's not just music -- the radio industry is next to have its current business model made redundant, followed thereafter by television and eventually movies.

Remember Minidisc still requires the atoms to make it work -- think of MP3 as a service rather than a product and you'll understand where I'm coming from.

Andy Grace


Reply:

Many thanks for the mail... We're calling Bang & Ollufsen to find out when its MP3 player is due!


Story: IT's Like This... What's wrong with Europe?

Dear Mailroom

I can't speak for all of Europe, but as for the UK our problem is BT! They own practically all the phone system here & we have very little choice but to use them.

They charge very high rates & provide a very poor quality service. The cost for ISDN here is way beyond the reach of the average consumer!

Why are they dragging they're heels releasing ADSL, even when they do we fear it will be unaffordable. I just want to say that your article is pretty much spot on & the more coverage we get here the more people become aware of the great risks there are for Europe in not making immediate changes.

Jason Thomas


Dear Mailroom

While there is a good deal of truth in the points being raised, I think putting all the blame on the telcos is a gross over simplification. Can we try to look at the opportunities rather than continue to moan about things?

Dial-up connections do not provide the bandwidth required for the ordinary person to get really excited about e-commerce. That will come through special connections (ADSL, cable modems, satellite, wireless) and these services will cost something no matter where you live. The pressure should be on the potential providers of these services to come up with the goods sooner rather than later. Given that Europe pays for local calls anyway, the take up of alternative telephony services in Europe should be higher than it will be in North America. Net access and digital television come as part of the package. Think TV not PC.

For most people, the PC is not an appropriate vehicle onto the Net. It is too complicated and not sufficiently robust. A better solution is required. Europe has a lead in mobile communications. Let's think about how to exploit that to push the Net everywhere. I will get excited about NET access to the general public when a pocket-sized organiser will allow me to connect to the NET whenever and wherever I want. Then it becomes just a part of normal life and that is when the real money will be made.

Cliff Addison

Reply

Agreed e-commerce needs to come down to the PDA, but if things don't change with the telcos we'll have the same position we have now: just the rich kids on the block getting richer. Communications are for everyone. That's the point.


Can Europe expect to be a service state to America if its governments don't act?

It always bugs me when UK politicians when fronted with the disparity in the cost of net access in the UK due to unmetered calls being available in the USA they refuse to acknowledge the issue and go on about comparisons with they rest of Europe. They fail to have missed the point.

In an infomation age, regional trade associations like the EU become an irrelevance. Language will be the barrier, not geography. Competition will be primarily between countries that share common language rather than regional borders.

This Leaves the UK with a serious problem, all major countries with English as their first language already have unmetered calls, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand.

Do European governments understand what is at risk?

No I don't think they understand the issues at all. There lack of understanding ranges from:

1. failing to distinguish between competition for long distance calls and BT's local loop monopoly.

2. In a similar vain, giving the impression of great competition with numerous cable companies when in fact there is a duopoly in any given region.

3. Seeing Kingston Communications unmetered tariffs as being the result of competition when in fact no more competition exists there than elsewhere in the country and is the result of Hull district council retaining the operating licence when regional telcos were being nationalised and bought under the control of the GPO. And has since then provided a community service and therefore actually listens to its customers unlike BT who appears to treat them with contempt.

4. They also fail to see what impact ecommerce will have on tax revenues.

What should governments do about the telco monopolies?

The problem exists with unfetered access to the local loop. The USA addressed this problem ages ago by breaking up AT&T.

I would suggest that the local loop should be broken up into separate companies in a similar manner to the USA, but without Interconnect fees at the exchange.

One of the results of No interconnect fees at the point of the exchange would be to remove the crazy situation where the cost of supplying a non geographic call at local rates is borne by the caller and not the provider of the line. This regulatory anomaly has been abused by Energis and the ISPs who have used it to carve up call revenue between them. It was never intended for that purpose, but if a business sees a benefit of providing access nationally at local rates it should be at their expense.

Paul Hatch


What should governments do about the telco monopolies?

I own shares, I usually vote for private enterprise, but BT's profits are scandalous when 90% of the fibre under our streets is "dark" and they could "turn on" ADSL whenever they feel like it. This is the one and only case where I'd say take BT back into state ownership -- or at least pass legislation to force them to open up fast, free, internet access to anyone who wants it. Free ECommerce and EBusiness to expand and flourish and we might, just, be able to play "catch up" with the USA.

Steve

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