Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Windows Media Player has some odd habits, but not as odd as those of early morning TV presenters...

Monday 13/1/03
Beware, ageing rock stars and dodgy TV presenters. Watch out, teenagers and others with a taste for exotic digital media. The new Windows Media Player 9 may not be your friend. A pal of the Diary -- don't worry, Adrian Mars of Hampstead, your secret is safe with us -- reports that WMP 9 is unusually anal about its media files. He downloaded the software and asked it to find his media files and add it to its library. Which it did -- but it also found files that he'd long since deleted. We're still not quite sure how it does it, but it seems to pull information from cached lists of names created by earlier copies of the player. The result of this industrious behaviour is that all those late-night downloads one pulls off the Internet for a few minutes' viewings will apparently be in one's library. Oh no, you might think as you hear your mother bringing a nice cup of tea into the study, she's not ready for my fondness of Tom of Finland - The Animated Series (*), so you highlight the offending files and hit delete. Phew! They've gone! As if. No, WMP 9 doesn't give up its prey that easily. Next time you visit the library list, the items are back. You have to right click and choose 'delete from library'. Be careful out there. (*) Example chosen for illustrative purposes only. On no account go looking. Tom of Finland is very rude. Adrian Mars of Hampstead most certainly would never think of such a thing, and we regret any apparent connection that may be implied. Tuesday 14/1/03
Gradually, Microsoft is bowing to the inevitable. It's decided to let governments see its source code, on the grounds that so many of them were refusing to leave all their IT tasks in the hands of a large block of uncheckable software. Who knows what it might be doing -- radioing data back to Redmond? Leaving back doors open for US government agents? Quietly replacing every occurrence of the words 'Sun Microsystems' in purchase orders with 'Microsoft'? Of course not, but if you're the government you can't be too careful. It's probably not good enough, though. Unless MS makes the source code for each and every Windows patch available to the governments, nobody can be sure that the version of Windows they're running at the moment is anything like the one that got approved. There's no such thing as being a little bit open in your source: for it to do any good, you have to go all the way. Doubtless someone in Microsoft is considering the downside of making all the code available to anyone to view. We can dismiss the idea that there'll be commercial consequences as competitors use the information to somehow undercut Microsoft itself -- there are no competitors, and Microsoft's commercial advantage doesn't derive from the quality of its software (and wouldn't it be a different world if it did?). Here's a prediction: in two years' time or less, most of the core code for Windows will be widely available for viewing -- either officially or with Microsoft's unspoken acquiescence. Even if the company really, truly doesn't want it to happen, you know how government departments like to leak. Especially as they're often filled with firebrand lefties who have a deep distrust of the commercial world... Wednesday 15/1/03
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's an extremely mobile Wi-Fi network. Lufthansa has taken to the skies with the first European use of Connexion by Boeing, which as we reported a couple of years ago is a broadband satellite system that delivers those funky Internet bits direct to your laptop at 35,000 feet. At the time, Boeing was wondering about using USB or ordinary Ethernet to link the punters to the network, but now they've persuaded the authorities that 802.11b is safe as houses in the air. Not that houses are particularly safe in the air, but you know what I mean. This will change in-flight entertainment as we know it. Imagine the fun you can have with a Webcam link back to home, or inveigling your fellow passengers into a quick blast of straightforward plasma death mayhem. And as for what it'll do for those strange souls who like operating virtual airlines over the Internet in real time, heaven only knows. It also brings a new dimension to wardriving, that obtuse yet impressive art of tooling around a neighbourhood looking for open networks. Imagine the fun of hunting around the sky with a high-gain aerial looking for passing airliners -- you won't get much signal through the hull, but the portholes may help. Of course, it's quite possible that sitting on top of Hampstead Heath with a converted Pringles tube aimed at overflying aircraft could be misinterpreted by the local plod as something a tad more antisocial, so if you're planning on doing it we recommend making sure you clear all those castor beans out of your kitchen first. Excellent sport beckons. Thursday 16/1/03
Apologies are once again in order for those who are on holiday or happen to be awake at 5:30 this morning -- the only reasons you're likely to have to cope with my bleary face appearing on your telly. On Wednesday night, the BBC failed once again to find anyone else to appear on World Business Report to talk about the latest financial results due in from various luminaries of the high tech world -- IBM, Intel, Sun, Apple, Yahoo! et cetera -- and they repeated the exercise 12 hours later. So, I got to broadcast to the world what I thought would happen in the results, and then got to explain to everyone just why I got it completely wrong. In fact, it was all pretty much as predicted. Intel and Yahoo! had good results that were ignored or discounted, and the other companies had more mixed results that were seen as reasons for more misery. Nobody thinks its getting any better, and with good reason. The most fun was on the 5:30 show, where my charming presenter suddenly flipped into full-on Sally Smedley mode. The studio is open plan, with the presenter and guest sitting on a raised dais in a newsroom filled with computers, clattering keyboards and journalists. That morning, there was a lot of nattering going on, and it got a bit much. "I cannot ad-lib with this sort of background! It's showing no respect! No respect!" I can't blame her. Things were tense -- I was late, due to the car driver not being given my phone number 'for security reasons' so he couldn't tell me when he had arrived to pick me up, and some of the computer bits weren't working too well. And it was 5:30 in the morning, which is no time for anyone to have to be doing anything apart from getting ready to go to bed. In any case, it was slightly less amusing than me discovering I could no longer say 'consumer expenditure', but instead produced three random streams of phonemes before drying up, giggling and plunging in again. Perhaps I'll reconsider my planned 24-hour Goodwins TV channel. Friday 17/1/03
When times get tough, second-hand goods become much more enticing. Whether this is behind eBay's much better than expected results, I don't know -- but it's a good idea well implemented that does something you just can't do in any other way. Just goes to show that common sense still counts for a lot when having the 'is the Internet dead in the water?' post-boom discussion. It remains vulnerable to one big thing, though: fraud. There's a lot of it about, as you can check for yourself by typing 'eBay fraud' into news.google.com. People know this and eBay seems to becoming adept at walking the fine line between over-publicising the fact that fraud exists and keeping people informed about how to cope with it. As long as people make the assessment that they're no more likely to be ripped off than if they buy stuff in shops -- or if they are, that the increased availability of the stuff they really want compensates for the extra risk -- then eBay will flourish. If someone you know's been ripped off, though, you won't touch it with a bargepole. Meanwhile, it's proving an excellent site for research. Type 'surreal' into the site, and you'll find that almost nobody knows what the word actually means -- and indeed, some of the stuff so described is much weirder than anything Breton cooked up. And any planet that can create a Barbie Neck Pillow and sell it for a dollar is a place beyond price. Forget sending picture disks of our culture out to the aliens, strapped to the sides of interplanetary probes: we should immediately start beaming the eBay database into space from Arecibo. That'll show the greys.