April launches fuel tech industry

If you're not tempted by the nostalgic TRS-80 Web server, how about the 1,000GB MP3 player or the mobile phone that stops you from making those drunken calls...

UK Web-hosting firm Xtraordinary Hosting went retro on Tuesday with the launch of its TRS-80 Model 4 platform hosting solution. Unlike many launches in the tech industry, Xtraordinary Hosting candidly admitted that the hosting platform is not good for much. "The service has been fully optimised for common industry applications including 'Hello World' and 'Welcome to my home page!'", said a spokesperson.

The fact that the TRS-80 originally came out in 1983 adds to the nostalgic nature of the service, the company said. According to TRS-80 enthusiast sites, the TRS-80 is the best computer ever built that was based on the 8-bit Z-80 processor. No matter, said Extraordinary, that today the Zilog Z80, which is now available running at up to 20MHz (compared to the latest 3GHz Pentium 4s), has been relegated to simple data transmission jobs. It is ideally suited to a nostalgic, contemplative and altogether more relaxed hosting environment.

Each TRS-80 server unit weighs in at 14kg, and occupies a whole 5Us in a rack enclosure, meaning that a full-sized 42U rack will hold just eight servers, providing "optimal frittering of valuable data centre space." The service will be augmented by a range of low-density, low utility, ZX Spectrum blade servers. These are expected to be available at the start of Q2 2004.

Other tech companies chose 1 April to announce altogether more useful-sounding products. Virgin Mobile introduced its Alco-phone, which comes with a built-in breathalyser and a facility that allows the owner to identify contacts who might be at high risk of receiving a drunken communication -- an ex-girlfriend, say. The owner can set a time window during which the phone will remained locked, and calls and texts may only be permitted after he or she has blown into the breathalyser attachment on the bottom of the phone.

If the user is below the maximum legal permitted limit for drivers of 35 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of breath, said Virgin, the phone will unlock itself, and the user is permitted to make one call or send one text. "At between 35 and 70 micrograms the phone will permit calls and texts to be sent to contacts in the phone book who have not been identified as high risk," said a spokesman. "Any phone whose reading is greater than 70 micrograms will remain locked, and able to make 999 calls only."

Meanwhile, at Creative Labs, the marketing department has dreamt up a digital audio player that fits 1,000GB of music into a thumbnail-sized device. Creative said the player, called the Jukebox Kilo, is destined to become available across the UK at the end of the month, priced at £549.99. The highest capacity MP3 players that Creative currently sells are the Jukebox 3 and Jukebox Zen, each of which can store 20GB of data.

Sadly, the highest capacity MP3 players that Creative sells is likely to remain at most in the ten of gigabytes range for the foreseeable future. Likewise, the alco-phone is likely to be confined to the marketing department's wish-list for now, and the TRS-80 Web hosting service will not be available after 1 April. All were, of course, April fools.

For the latest on everything from DVD standards and MP3s to your rights online, see the Personal Technology News Section.

Let the editors know what you think in the Mailroom.