Guy Kewney's Diary

Monday

Supposed to be a holiday, wasn't it. Probably, it would have been if I'd stuck to the plan to go sailing. Instead, hay fever made a chicken out of me. It was my decision to run some tests on time-stamps and date stamps, which involved changing the system clock.

That's not to say it was my fault; the fault was that piffling little error I reported last week, where the scheduler on my Windows 95 machine insisted on giving me my appointments in GMT. "Easy to fix," says the tech support guy at Palm Computing: "just don't change time zones when you travel with a notebook. Change the system clock instead."

This one will be back, because it's dawned on me that a time stamp for a file has to be based on correct GMT time stamps. It's the actual time that the file is saved that counts, not what time the local time-zone and early-rising bureaucrats dictate will appear on clock faces in their part of the world. If I try to save a file in London, and you (working late in Hong Kong) saved the same file a minute earlier, then time-zone dates will show mine as the earlier file, and a data integrity check will throw mine away, and replace it with yours.

That's never been a problem except for big corporates before, because for us individual PC users, the connection between the Hong Kong branch office and the Los Angeles HQ has been imaginary. Suddenly, with the Internet, it turns out to be quite significant. And my habit of connecting to a PC in London via TCP/IP from odd corners of the globe has suddenly turned into a real issue.

Trouble is, changing the system time on a PC isn't a clever move. Try it, and see what happens... changing the time zone is confusing enough. But if you're in London, and you set your PC clock to the absolute time that appears on Chicago clocks, your files are going to get hopelessly confused.

Tuesday

The gas man cometh, and the writer, he worketh from home. I caught up with a lot of unopened envelopes. A few embarrassing invites, missed at the time, are caught up with. Someone phones the office and says: "I know you're avoiding me."

The gas man cometh still, but not yet. The writer, he maketh yet another cup of coffee, and calls experts on image compression, and says: "Where is the Windows version of LivePicture that you promised to send?" The experts on image compression shake their heads saying, "Verily, we never promised such a benefit for indeed, there is no such version, nor have we plans." The writer waxeth wroth, and smiteth the phone. The connection is terminated. Plonkers.

The gas man cometh at last; he drinketh coffee, he requireth access to secret parts of the house. It comes to pass that the cellar is opened; and behold! the pet rabbits have escaped, and are no more contained within their hutch.

On the telly, an innocent asks: "Why are you going to work?"

The writer shouts: "Because that way I might get some ruddy work done!"

Wednesday

Apology from Microsoft. By Microsoft's standards, a grovelling one. "It was a decision which was justified at the time," they say. What decision?

Well, the decision to launch version 2.0 of Microsoft Network, MSN. Actually, I can't bear to talk about this any more; it wasted a full week of my life at a time when every day was expensive while I was travelling overseas. The company paid my overseas phone bills, in the end, but it's a dark and horrible memory, and having someone from Microsoft tell me that version 2.5 will fix it all is more than I can politely tolerate. Have we not heard all this before?

What is interesting is to see that MSN doesn't use anything that looks like Windows 95, or Windows 3.X, or even Internet Explorer 4.0. All these are user interfaces that Microsoft wants to make "intuitive". That means, kiddies, that we all use them often enough to know what they mean -like traffic signs. Well, which? Windows 95? Or MSN?

It's a horrible, confused mess, sorry Microsoft. The mouse no longer needs to click on menus. Instead, as you pass over them, the options pop up. Not necessarily under the mouse, though; no, if you drift over a hot spot on the bottom right of the screen, various moving images start appearing on the top left. Since there are moving images all the time, including a "you have mail" banner, the word "intuitive" starts to look meaningless.

Kaluna has a virus protection card. For £150, they show me an IDE in and out board; it partitions your hard disk so that while you're on the Internet, all other parts of the disk are either hidden, read-only, or roll-backable. On my desktop machine, all drive numbers after D: are on the network. "Ah yes, we don't protect those."

The new Online pages. Well, I don't need to tell you about those; you can see them. Nice, aren't they!

Thursday

Visio buys me an excellent lunch, and uses the occasion to announce that in August, they will announce new software.

What they have is a system of drawing which makes things like AutoCad and Corel and the like seem hopelessly overkill solutions. This is a library of shapes, and a library of connections. And the Professional version, launched some months back, does computer installations, and network configurations, and even Web site mapping. They call problems with Corel "wrong tool problems" and suggest you solve them by switching to Visio. Neat.

At my office, the headline of the year - or so it appears: Transend Communications, the US modem supplier, has announced a 67kbps modem! Over ordinary phone lines!

This takes some believing; the physics of modulation and digitisation over phone lines are very, very well understood, and 33kbps is known to be the absolute limit, unless you do fake-digital stuff like K56flex or x2 technology. Careful reading of the Transend announcement reveals nothing at all about how they reckon to achieve it. Eventually, a little voice, resolutely ignored in the back of my mind, makes itself heard: "Isn't 67kbps roughly two times 33kbps?" Yes it is. Yes; Transend has devised a modem that talks down two phone lines simultaneously.

Well, it sounds like cheating, but think about it! It's going to be faster than ISDN, and there are a lot of ordinary phone lines around. If Demon installed some, I'd use them.

And indeed, talking of Demon, it's off to the Demon Internet party; held in a dark demonic basement in Covent Garden to celebrate...well, their survival really. Demon pioneered the Internet in the UK with its revolutionary £10 a month infinite access plan; five years later, they're still going. The City is convinced that Rupert Murdoch and BT between them will take over the Internet; 104,000 Demon users paying a tenner a month is Cliff Stanford's answer to them. He's looking for expansion money; he should get it.

Friday

Apricot buys lunch to talk about their NetPC plans. They're "fully committed" to it, and are standing up in New York with Intel, to testify to their commitment. That is to say (when pushed) it's a "risk venture" - they're going to do it, and see if anybody buys one.

Apricot has some experience in this area; a few years back, it got dozens of awards for a small, neat, minimal desktop PC. Everybody liked it. Nobody bought it.

Do not trust your customers. They will always tell you what they don't like about their current equipment. They do not know what they would dislike about the one you're going to launch next year; they'll tell you that after you ship it. Too late!

Phone call from a large Intel OEM customer, confirming some of the hints from Apricot; that the world is not sold on Pentium II, that it's expensive to make, and hard to sell. The list of people talking to AMD about the K6 chip grows. Intel, says this source, is "very, very worried."

This is not a surprise to DEC; having sued Intel, they find themselves on a reverse suit. Worse, they find themselves in receipt (says my source) of a note from Intel saying that there is no contractual requirement for Intel to supply CPU chips beyond October. The list of people talking to AMD grows by one more, as they say.

Not before time. We'll see what happens Monday, when the NetPC announcements are made.