Guy Kewney's Diary

MondayThis was a good week for lunch, particularly IBM PC boss Mike Lunch. If you want to know how good, try using the "search" option on the main news page, and enter "lunch" as your search word...

Monday's lunch was not one of those glamour events. I spent it eating sandwiches in front of a hot display, on which my old friend Peter McManus was trying to teach me about proxy indexing servers.

I think it works like this: you set up his machine as your proxy, and in exchange, every time you get a page, it comes enhanced with links that he's set up.

In fact, the idea is probably more "manageable" on an intranet basis and he's sold it to a few people to try out; you create a page enhancement database on which links are set up. Every time certain key words appear in something you're reading, the enhancement adds a little link tag; if you click, you go to where the link points.

The obvious drawback is the work involved; the equally obvious advantage is that you can (at last!) create some indirect addresses. Normally, you'd create a page where it said "Kewney" and when you created it, you'd set this up as an HTML tag pointing here. Of course, next week, this would be history, and you'd have to revise the page. But if your enhancement page was set up to catch the word, and point to the current diary, not a fixed page, then when you reloaded the page the tag would be updated from the enhancement page.

What I didn't do today: I didn't install Microsoft's Beta 4 release of NetMeeting 2.0, "making the leading, standards-based Internet conferencing software, easier, faster and more powerful." It wasn't that I didn't believe it was the leading standards based [yadda yadda yadda] or even that it wasn't more powerful. It's actually something I wanted to install, because of the speech processing inside it. I didn't, because my Windows 95 dialup networking killed my access to the NetWare server. Only Microsoft can explain this sort of thing...

Tuesday

Cleverly, I didn't go to Hannover for CeBIT last week. Today was when this caught up with me: I had to debrief colleagues who did go. First of all, however, I had to have [lunch] with Intel, who wanted to warn us all about the "secret" Klamath chip they're launching in May.

This got silly. Last Friday, we got a sad note from AMD, saying that Intel was suing them. It was suing them (and Cyrix) for saying that the new AMD K6 and Cyrix M2 chips would run MMX instructions.

Well, they will run MMX instructions. Actually, nobody is pretending otherwise; AMD actually has a cross-patent licensing deal with Intel that allows AMD to build chips that run MMX instructions, and to sell them. What Intel says is not OK, however, is telling anybody that it runs MMX. "It's a trademark."

Erm, no. Intel has applied for it to be a trademark; that transaction hasn't been approved yet, and for the very good reason that it's rather unlikely that you can trademark an acronym. "Oh, but MMX isn't an acronym."

The view of anybody who knows anything about MMX, outside Intel that is, would be that since Intel introduced the "MultiMedia eXtensions" last year in a blaze of publicity, the pretence that it is otherwise is stupid. Intel's lawyers, immune to shame, insist that it isn't an acronym.

So I was delighted to hear the Intel staff, briefing us on Klamath (Pentium II, it will be called) refer to "multimedia extensions". Just to be sure, I stopped the meeting: "What are these multimedia extensions?" I asked innocently. "They are (said the most senior Intel man present) "the fifty-seven instructions we added to the Pentium instruction set to handle multimedia primitives."

I didn't have to say anything. The brick landed with a painful thud, and there was not enough time to execute an MMX context switch before the Media Relations team (there are several of them, and they are extensions to the marketing team, so we might call them the multi media extensions?) roared in to the rescue. I think I described this somewhere else as the arrival of the spin ambulance, and it really lacked only the blue rotating lights, as the spin doctors emerged, shouting: "It's not an acronym!"

The afternoon should have been spent learning about client-server auto-Java generation. Instead, I had to catch up with Hannover, as I said; I'm not completely sure this was an improvement. On the other hand, the only place my colleagues and I could find to discuss the two-foot thick wad of German press releases was the local pub...

Wednesday

LineOne is online, at last. Quite a lot of it is working; but up till today, you needed a LineOne dialup account to see it, because www.lineone.net didn't work. But now, it does. Well, nearly; unfortunately, a high-speed corporate connection to the internet has to go through a firewall, and one of LineOne's finest features, VDO video, doesn't.

Here's what you do to get LineOne: get one of their CDs, install, and then dial their BT Internet access numbers (local call everywhere). You get into LineOne, but you also get access to the Internet, for £16 odd per month; about £3.00 of that is what you pay for LineOne. And it's starting to be very clever indeed.

For example, there's an online diary.

Now, diaries are two a penny, but does yours e-mail you when the date is near? Does it let you link to another information source? No, not just any information source; admittedly, it would be better if you could specify particular Web URLs; but you can link it to any part of LineOne. Which is huge; everything Murdoch owns, as I warned you last week. Including, God help us, Page 3 of the Sun...

It isn't often I'm grateful to London Transport for screwing up the train system, but today was that day; if the Victoria Line hadn't trapped me in a tunnel between Finsbury Park and Highbury for most of the morning, I wouldn't have been late for a fascinating IBM presentation about VisualAge. And since VisualAge was, genuinely, fascinating, it ran late in turn, which meant I couldn't get to olsy.

VisualAge impressed me; the new version is very, very similar to Java, and it has a nice byte-code interpreter virtual machine, which means it now loads and unloads applets dynamically, rather than filling your machine with code. There's an objects conference next month (I'll give you dates when I get them) which will see it all exposed and unveiled, and it's really rather special, and worth a look.

You don't want to ask what olsy might be. Beware: here is the information, nonetheless. It's a company. It used to be Olivetti Systems & Services Division; and I suppose someone decided that if he (or she) had to work for a dull company with few prospects of survival, it might as well have an exciting name. So they called it olsy without any capital letters, and somewhat to my relief, I couldn't get to [lunch] with them.

I did have lunch with Hitachi.

Now, Hitachi (you will have noticed) isn't a PC company in the UK; it sells displays and sound systems and TVs and that sort of thing by the ton, but no PCs. In the normal course of nature, Japanese companies are useless at PCs; you have about 30 days to sell a new PC design before everybody else has one, and the price falls down out of the sky. The typical careful Japanese factory owner will spend that 30 days (and the next 120 days) testing the thing, finally releasing it when it's not only obsolete, but utterly unprofitable.

The exception to this has always been Toshiba, which (not surprisingly) never really made it in Japan. And now, Hitachi US [is starting to do well; and the reason (I discovered over lunch) was David Hancock.

I knew David in 1984, when he was boss of Apple UK, launching the Macintosh. Indeed, I still have the 512K Mac he lent me for "evaluation" at the time. I wouldn't dream of switching the thing on these days... and anyway, my pocket Pilot has the same processor (only much faster) and twice as much RAM and a very great deal more software... but Hancock has lasted the decade rather better than the Fat Mac, and is now CEO of the operation. And he's (I think) considering setting up a Hitachi PC operation in Europe; and I'll eat my hat if he doesn't start here first. Watch this space.

The day ended on a high, with an even more pretentious bit of marketing guff than the company name "olsy" -- this from something called Constellar.

It started out as a Personal Letter:

"Dear Mr Kewney:

As a customer, supplier or business partner of the SQL Group, you have helped us to grow and prosper since our founding. In the spirit of this partnership I want to personally inform you of a significant event in the history of the company." And it announced that SQL Group was now Constellar Corp, and Information Junction will be Constellar Hub.

I can honestly say that my help in growth and prosperity, here, has been entirely by dint of ignorance. I knew nothing of these people. So naturally, my surprise being complete, I read on:

"The new identity is one part of our program to upgrade the company to provide world-class products, support and services. We have successfully embargoed on our transformation from a UK-based consultancy, to a world-class supplier...[yes, yes, yes]...the name Constellar is a combination of constellation and stellar and was chosen to help communicate this global focus... We believe you'll be as excited about the name and corporate identity as we are."

Wrong, wrong wrong. Constellation is a word meaning a group of stars, stellar refers to stars. Constellar refers to stars. Get a dictionary, guys! Also, while you're at it, look up "global" and "focus"...I'm reminded of a Dilbert boss who wanted to concentrate his efforts "across the board".

[sigh]

Thursday

A good day for lunch: I had lunch with Lunch himself. First, though, I had breakfast with Lanacom which puts extracts of Web sites onto the top of your screen. Very simple, really; you set up Web sites you want to track, and when something new comes up on any of them, a headline is created by Headliner. It either scrolls across the top of your screen, or takes over the title bar of a window, or operates as a screen saver (move mouse to corner, read data). They have a free sample, and you can get the pro version for $50.

It's the brainchild of another of Delrina's colony of South African emigrants, all settled in Toronto: this is Tony Davis who is responsible for Winfax. He's now abandoned Symantec (still retains connections) and set up on his own, and now they've launched into the UK. I spent some time wondering what it would be like to set Headliner up to look at a Webcosm-enhanced site, and got a headache.

Lunch with Lunch should have been Brunch with Lunch, but Headliner made me late. So I had a late breakfast again (cup of coffee) and watched Mike milk the opportunity of a trade story.

Apparently, one of the trade weeklies has spilled a thing about Compaq "going direct" - a story which Compaq denied a few months ago. What Compaq is actually doing is not of much interest to most of us: it is setting up a "call centre."

The trouble is, this call centre will take orders. And this is sufficient excuse for Mike Lunch at IBM to tell anybody who will listen, that IBM will NOT EVER sell direct again, and if you sell direct, you can't sell through the trade.

Well, quite right; and next month at Innovate97, Compaq's own mega-event in Houston, I'd expect Compaq to make several announcements along the lines of how important its trade connections are; and frankly, if it says it's "going direct" I'll eat my hat. I do know people who believe it will; but I'm not actually convinced Mike Lunch is one of them! - I think he knows well enough that UK Compaq boss Joe McNally would resign rather than poison his relationship with the dealers.

Actually, it may cause him more trouble than he realises: not every "industry observer" seems to understand the problem Compaq faces, and some have taken the rumour at face value. And since they believe Compaq is going direct, the next thing they are going to be writing is "IBM cannot resist the pressure to follow Compaq in selling direct." You see if I'm wrong.

What Compaq's problem is, is remoteness. It's all very well having an excellent relationship with dealers; it's quite another thing, refusing to talk to your biggest customers. William Knocker (Compaq Marketing) can boast all he likes about how good Compaq's relationship with corporates is, but he knows as well as I do that they have lost a lot of customers who simply wanted someone to talk to, and couldn't get through. This may fix that. Or, maybe not.

Friday

A small dispute over traffic rights, a discussion between fellow motorists on the advisability of learning to drive before trying, and I end up a tad late at Client Server Technologies, where they have taken screen-scraping one stage back down the pipeline. They have a knowledge base product which analyses transactions between 3270 displays, and CICS teleprocessing monitors, and produces Java applets.

The advantage is that you can write code to enhance the 3270 rubbish, without re-writing the mainframe database. For example (says Frank Coggrave) you can take a form which requires name, address and postcode, and interface it to a little post-code lookup that fills in the address for you. And you can feed this into any browser on any platform.

Naturally, he's a fan of the network computer, and seems to know people who are anxious to buy lots. The phrase "anally retentative control freaks" does get used in the following dialogue, but it wasn't by me...

Then [lunch] again, with The Editor. We talk about Compaq, fish, and publishing. If I told you what publishers talk about when they are alone, away from the real world, you simply wouldn't believe me. So I won't. It's been a lovely day, and if it stays like this, I may get some sailing done tomorrow.

Then again, I may also have to finish my expenses... TGIF. Or, probably, "Merde, c'est lundi!" by the time you read this. Till next week!

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