Merlin is coming! The 16-bit operating system that thinks it's 32-bit, or something -- it's the latest Warp, it's voice-operated, and I'm invited to a Web event where customers, note, not marketroids, are going to prepare the way.
Actually, the only interesting part of the announcement will be October 24, when they open up the OS/2 Web explorer, and it turns out (thank the powers!) to be Netscape and not the seriously cranky IBM product. I'm a user of IBM's global Web service, simply because it lets me link into my home page and home conference system from anywhere. But the browser was broken, and if you complained they just said it was excellent. You didn't know whether to hope they were lying, or stupid. I suppose lying is better.
The afternoon is spent trying to register for Comdex Fall. There's a Web site, natch. It has registration, automatically. Except, of course, for Press registration. I end up skipping two important press conferences in London, in order to mind the fax machine...
Bill Larson, the twinkly-eyed boss of McAfee (formerly just a virus company) is spending his money buying me lunch, always a worrying event. There's this vastly expensive restaurant where we have a private room in a giant cellar. The table is in darkness; out in the passageway, extremely well lit, is the screen. I'm searching on the plate for my food (it certainly smells nice, but it's a bit lost in the dark here) while Larson tells us of his NT-based strategy for the Entire Enterprise Environment, or something. NT, he says, is the way of the future. I know, I know, I wrote that three months before Windows 95, I tell him tetchily.
It seems he wants us to know that he can solve all the problems of the enterprise by basing their networks on NT, because it's much better for management. Oh, really, says I: so talk to me about domains.
Bless him, he collapses in smiles. Well, we both know he's not here to sell product; he is almost certainly planning to take over Dr Solomons', which is the anti-virus market leader in the UK, McAffee being market leader everywhere else.
Microsoft appears to be living on whatever plant exudes smugness from its sap, as it prepares for the official launch of Office 97. It's still a secret, they hasten to remind me. Yes, a secret, like Lotus SmartSuite, right? Actually, it turns out they haven't seen SmartSuite, and don't think they need to.
I think they're mad. Put simply, if the whole strategy of Office 97 is "the best source of Web document creation", then the fact that Excel is better than Lotus 1-2-3 is simply not the killer it was. And when you get to see the SmartSuite pitch to Web users, you'll discover (I think) that it's a lot better thought out. You either put it together around Netscape, or around Lotus Notes. Either way, it's really nicely thought out.
Now; in the age where groupware is king, but is evolving into the intra-net, the king of groupware is Lotus Notes (and Microsoft Exchange is a nightmare, trust me). In the world of the Internet, Netscape is king, and Internet Explorer is (they say) trying to bribe the courtiers. Do you get the message, Oliver? "No, Guy; Office is clearly the superior product." Yes, I suppose that may be true. I can certainly see why they believe it...
A neat package of Web utilities from Larry Levy; including an offline site replicator, and a lovely little site printer. Larry grabs the Times every morning, formats into A5 booklet form, and has the complete newspaper in miniature without having to go to the newsagent, he says. In order to watch this marvel, I visit a cybercafe in Marylebone High Street, and to my intense astonishment, the coffee is actually good, strong, and in large cups. Can't explain it.
A trip to Sharp follows. This is "historic" because Sharp is getting back into notebooks. Two more Pentium machines, with CD drives, and strange mouse substitutes. "We'll triumph, because we lead the market in LCD technology," explain the marketing staff. I don't know how to put this, guys; when I buy a notebook PC, if it isn't Toshiba, IBM, or Compaq, it better have AST or Dell on the box. After that, it has to be really, really special. And another huge seven-pound black lump, even without a power brick, simply isn't going to swamp the market leaders.
Also, Sharp have an inflated idea of how well known the company is. The launch is at their shop. I know the shop is in Vere Street, and I'm told it's "off Oxford Circus." This turns out to mean "just north of Bond Street Station", which is somewhat different (by half a mile). So I try to phone them up to get better directions, and guess what! The London shop is ex-directory.
Xircom is launching PCMCIA cards for ISDN, modems, 10/100Mbps networks, and various combinations. Apparently the fact that they're going to announce a 33,600bps modem is a secret for another week. We try to look excited and anticipatory, and perhaps some of us succeed.
Interesting: they have bench tests, showing that the typical 28,800bps modem is actually half the speed of the typical 33,600bps modem. The reason is that at 28,000bps 26,000bps speeds, the link is seldom good, and lots of packets get lost. The superior processor capabilities of the new chipset mean that fewer get lost; Xircom suggests almost twice the throughput on "typical" lines.
I'd be a lot more impressed if they'd done this on real phone lines. I mean, I'm all in favour of "level playing field" tests when doing comparisons between Modem A and Modem B. And a line simulator complete with standard line noise is a great way to do that. But there is a real world out here; and in the real world, phone lines are not analogue. The signal is digitised into 64 kilobit pulse code modulation, or equivalent; and the quality of the digitising varies enormously from exchange to exchange.
We leave with the news that UK offices are three times more likely to do teleworking than German ones. Amazing. Can I work from home for the rest of the day? Not until ISDN prices come down, I'm afraid...