Rupert Goodwins' Diary

From the streets of Santa Clara to the back alleys of Soho, no tech story is too trivial, no datamangling too dirty, for Rupert. But why is Steve Ballmer shouting at him?

Monday 21/04/2003
Happy Easter!

Tuesday 22/04/2003
Meanwhile, over in Santa Clara, the O'Reilly Emerging Technologies Conference is underway. The usual suspects are there -- Howard Rheingold, Alan Kay, Mitch Kapor -- as well as this year's models, Craig Silverstein, director of tech at Google. And the usual subjects are under discussion: social software, wireless technology, nanotech. Alas, such high-powered minds come at a price -- even were I able to get across for the gig, I'm unlikely to be able to afford to get into a place that happily advertises "Save up to $455 on registration." Fortunately, the revolution will be blogged, so I can live the thrill vicariously. I watch avidly from across the pond as the mighty brains swing into action and the troops on the ground poise fingers above wireless enabled laptop to report their every word. Alas! The technology rises up and revolts! Urgent messages spew across the ether. "be very careful that when you're configuring your card, that YOU DO NOT CREATE an ad-hoc WiFi network called 'oreilly'!" It seems that careless configuration was knocking people off the wireless network, and at one point a user counted no fewer than three identically named 802.11b networks battling it out for users in one room alone. "Sounds like a regular goat-rodeo," commented LoveGravy on Shame I missed it. It must have been a very Darwinian way to promote emerging technologies. Wednesday 23/04/2003
There's always a period of confusion and misdirection when one regime gives way to another. Even when the changeover is expected and planned, nobody quite knows whether to do things the old way, or what's expected of the new -- just look at the transition between the Tudors and the Stuarts when Liz I pegged it and handed over the crown to Scottish Jimbo. Some of the same unsettling feelings are being induced in the introduction of 64-bit processors. The Itanium 2 is just starting to make an impression -- still far less than Intel would have you believe -- and AMD is finally coming clean with the launch of the AMD64 processors. How does Intel respond? It releases a Pentium emulator for the Itanium. I can make no sense of this whatsoever. First, the Itanium has a Pentium inside it already. A real, made out of silicon, Pentium, there to provide compatibility. It's not very fast -- in fact, since I've seen no figures for it in the years that the Itanium has been nominally launched, I suspect it is as slow as a wet Wednesday afternoon. But Intel can make it faster. That's what Intel does. Writing a software emulator is just plain perverse. Software emulators are for people who can't afford silicon, or who don't have the rights to make the hardware, or who absolutely must have compatibility and there's no other way. That's why Transmeta does it: the talk about performance gains and power savings haven't cut much ice. So why? Is Intel about to drop the hardware aspect of the Itanium's 32-bit compatibility? Is it about to launch a much better 32-64 chip for the desktop (the much rumoured Yamhill) and this is a stopgap? I'm going back to my Z80 until things settle down. Let me know when sanity returns. Thursday 24/04/2003
Windows Server 2003 is launched today, and I win the much-coveted chance to go and have Steve Ballmer yell at me by remote control. There is a predictable format to such things, and I look forward to finding out how the PR company, AugustOne, has misspelt my name on my badge. They -- and their ancestors, Text 100 -- always do. This time the PRs avoid the problem altogether by losing my registration completely. The launch itself follows the rules to the letter: "We've heard what you've said, and you won't get herds of happy Microsoft people with reams of PowerPoint slides!" said a happy Microsoft person in front of a PowerPoint slide, before introducing herds of happy Microsoft people with reams of PowerPoint slides. But there were some high spots. The great "Here's how easy it is to move a SAP database from 32-bit Windows to 64-bit Windows" live demonstration resulted in many awkward silences and a selection of error messages. Likewise, the live demonstration of distributed deployment -- see twenty-six servers instantaneously load Windows across the network! -- worked fine for twenty-four. And it was surely cruel to introduce Ken Maxwell, director of Business Critical Systems from HP, to the strains of the Fun Lovin' Criminals. Back came the happy Microsoftie, who tackled the thorny issue of security head-on. "With NT4, we never talked about hackers or viruses" -- yes, we know, muttered the hacks under their breath, and look what a mess you got into -- "but now we know we have to make our operating system... impenetrable!". And what to make of "We're betting the farm on open standards!" from Mark Greatorex, director of .Net development in Microsoft UK? The one reason I really wanted to go to the launch was to talk to someone about Microsoft not supporting open storage standards, but there was nobody there who had the answer. (They're getting back to me, as they have been for the past few weeks). It was all worth it in the end. I had a cracking talk with Rob Short, MS' kernel supreme, who was a Real Engineer and thus made sense, and then went back into the fray to get shouted at by Ballmer over the satellite link. Odd life. Friday 25/04/2003
News that Westminster Council is going to submerge Soho in a sea of 802.11b is quite a wake-up call to those who think that 3G phones will be forever safe from wireless networking, because the coverage will never be there. If councils discover it's cheaper to abandon their existing communications and switch wholesale to wireless Ethernet that they provide themselves, then they'll start building out the infrastructure as fast as their little budgets can carry them. And, sure as 802.1x is 802.1x, they'll then start flogging public access to those networks -- we'll be back to the days when councils ran the local telephone service in no time. What fun! But it also opens up some interesting playtime possibilities. As anyone who knows Soho will confirm, it's a place where lots of people do lots of things that are illegal, immoral and fattening. Westminster is thinking of using the network to do CCTV monitoring -- why not? -- so the prize to the hacker who first works out how to piggyback the connections will be an endless stream of reality TV. The same goes for all the voice-over-IP, data and control services Westminster is thinking of providing: they're going to be doing this in a neighbourhood full of bright young people with lots of high tech savvy and some evil ideas. It should all be most entertaining. Click here to see more of Rupert's diaries.