Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Rupert doesn't beat around the Bush when turning down what appears to be a good offer...

Monday 23/02/2004
This week is Mobile Week - with 3GSM kicking off in Cannes and the announcement of a billion GSM subscribers worldwide, things have never looked better for the industry. Reports from Cannes tell of unmatched hospitality and corporate confidence at an all-time high - with something like thirty billion dollars a month coming into the industry from calls alone, people have realised that not only have they survived the bad times but they're positively prospering.

That may not be entirely true for the 3G people, who are still heavily in debt for mammoth licence fees and infrastructure rollouts and have yet to see the masses come flocking to their videophones. It's dawned on them that just having something fancy won't do the job: they need to compete on price with the existing networks.

One such attempt is 3's new ThreePay service, launched today. The PR phones our noble editor, Matt Loney, and enthuses away: one call tariff to all networks at all times, great discounts for higher users, set to revolutionise the market, yada yada yada. In fact, she continues, we have a report prepared that shows all this in great detail.

"Great!" says Matt. "Where on the Web site is it?"

"Um, it's not on the Web site quite yet. It's very new," says the PR.

"OK, well, email it over then."

"Can't exactly do that," admits 3.

"Is it available on any electronic format?"

"Not as such, no."

"So how do we get it?"

"We'll bike a copy over!" she says, brightly.

Matt counted to three, and politely declined. We didn't quite manage to write up 3's fabbo report for some reason, but as soon as the company gets the hang of this modern communications lark we'll be sure to bring it to your attention just as soon as the boy with the cleft stick is back from his lunch break.

Tuesday 24/02/2004
Don't all rush at once, but you can now buy a licence for Linux. This exceptional opportunity comes courtesy of those nice chaps at SCO, who have found the time between their busy legal schedules of suing and being sued to put an online ordering service up for all to enjoy. And it's a bargain -- just $49 gets you an annual desktop licence.

Of course, SCO declines to identify exactly what parts of Linux this covers, so you'll just have to trust them that there's stuff in there worth $49. You'll also have to trust them that they actually own the Unix copyright they claim, not trust Novell who claim otherwise, and take SCO's word for it that you couldn't get rid of the Unix components in Linux even if you knew what they were. Which you don't: even $49 doesn't buy you that information. There's also the little matter of believing them when they say that when they distributed Linux under the GPL they didn't know what they were doing and thus can't be held accountable.

Back from getting that nice, warm, licensed, $49 glow? Good. You'll be pleased to know that you're among an army of.. oh, how many licensees is it now, SCO?  Hello? The company isn't going to tell us exactly how many, but we can trust them on that too. You get a lot of trust in return for your money with SCO.

Unfortunately, some cynical people don't feel the love. One is Fyodor, the singularly named author of the hacker's favourite network tool, nmap. He's got a new release out with many improvements and additions -- and one significant retraction. SCO, he writes, is no longer allowed to distribute nmap with any of its software -- and all the SCO platforms are no longer supported.

It's a token gesture: anyone can download nmap and use it as they like, so no actual users will be inconvenienced. But it may be the start of a much bigger movement disconnecting SCO from the rest of the world. That'll be a big price to pay for those 49 dollars.

Wednesday 25/02/2004
The irresistible rise of the wireless network is getting faster, in all sorts of ways. Sales of the 54Mbps 802.11g standard is likely to outpace 802.11b's slowpoke 10Mbps for the first time this year, says a report , while elsewhere Linksys says that there are four million wireless networks in the UK and there'll be double that number by the end of the year. Well, perhaps. People tend to get broadband first and then get the urge to radiate: even if all three million broadband subjects of Her Majesty are currently hooked up to radio that leaves a lot of slack to take up.

But I fear dark times ahead. One of the lessons of the wireless revolution is that the market rewarded those who were a little keen to get their non-standard kit out before the 802.11g paperwork had been finished. This is not a lesson lost on Intel and pals, who are doing a similar trick with ultrawideband, and it doesn't look good for the next generation of 100Mbps wireless, 802.11n. At some point, all this potential incompatibility will turn around and bite us on the bum: when next door's SupaWizo gigabit video link decides to disagree with your BustaBit home audio distribution system, who's going to sort out the mess?

It's unlikely to be the late lamented Radiocommunications Agency, of whom I've had such nice things to say in the past. Now absorbed in the Ofcom amoeba, vast tranches of previously useful links into the RA's Web site now come up with a sorry apology -- as I find when I go hunting for the official specifications for what you can and can't do with your wireless LAN. Friends who have been setting up subtly naughty networks -- beaming the signal across kilometres using far too efficient aerials, for example --  report that the chances of being caught doing this are smaller than finding someone with a SCO Linux licence. The temptation to ladle ever more clever and non-standard equipment into the mix will grow unabated, people will start to add more power to overcome their interfering neighbours and frontier law will rule.

You read it here first.

Thursday 26/02/2004
One advantage the music industry has always had over the IT world is that you get much juicier lawsuits (SCO's sterling efforts to redress the balance notwithstanding). There's a never-ending stream of famous and dysfunctional people throwing their vast wealth into fights with each other, their record labels, their drug dealers, hapless journalists, the hapless journalists' drug dealers, and anyone else who's dissed them. The IT world tends to have men in suits battering on about subtle matters of intellectual property while the record biz has people like Prince appearing on telly with SLAVE written all over their tiny bods in ballpoint pen. And let's not even get started with Courtney Love.

But Apple, bless it, is sufficiently enamoured of showbiz litigation glitz that it keeps encouraging people on the other side to sue it. This week we've seen Enimen take the company to court over an advert that showed a young man singing along to one of the rapper's top tunes while listening to an iPod: the computer company had failed to ask permission for this, and as Marshall Mathers has never let his stuff be used in any advertising the fallout should be spectacular.

That's the new stuff. The old stuff is one of the longest running shows in the business - Apple versus Apple. When Apple (the computer company) started up, it didn't take long for Apple (the record label) to spot the similarities between their names and their logos - and as Apple (trl) had been around for a lot longer, it felt somewhat aggrieved. The case was finally settled in 1991, with Apple (tcc) coughing up a sum of money and agreeing not to do anything with music. Some perturbations in the Force occurred subsequently when Apple (tcc) products sprouted multimedia capabilities, but these were soon smoothed over.

iTunes, however, is a different kettle of drums. With a crash of cymbals, Apple (tcc) has turned itself into a major music distributor and dispenser of musical devices, and faster than you can select While My Lawyer Gently Weeps on your iPod Mini the blue meanies at Apple (trl) are back in court waving their papers and demanding that this heinous nonsense be sorted out forthwith.

What's so funny about peace, love and understanding, eh? I am immediately tempted to turn the whole thing into Apple: The Musical, with evil Steve pitted against peaceful Paul. I'd have to set up a holding company called Apple and Apple, of course, just for the joy of getting them both to sue me and kick off Apple and Apple versus Apple and Apple. It'd be par for the cores.

Friday 27/02/2004
I'm bashing away on the keyboard at home when the phone rings. It is a cheerful Northerner, who is keen to sell me on a fantastic offer my bank is doing on credit cards. It sounds like a good deal -- six months' interest free transfer of my existing balances, decent rate thereafter, of the sort I know a few friends have been taking up. It's cheaper than getting a normal loan. Ah, how much we all owe! What will become of us? But that's a problem for later.

So, unusually for a cold call, I'm receptive to the man. We go through the usual preambles and I'm mentally ticking off my normal reservations, when he says something that rings a warning bell.

"You understand that this will be a contract between yourself, the bank and MBNA..."

"Ah, hold on," I say. "MBNA?"

"Yes, the bank is the branding but MBNA runs the card... they're a big independent credit card company."

"Yes, I know. Sorry, I'm not interested."

"Eh?" says my friendly telesales bod.

As luck would have it, I'd been rummaging through some US political activist blogs last night and come across a campaign to boycott those companies who contribute most to the Republican election funds. High on the list was MBNA: people who were perhaps not keen on Bush's re-election were being encouraged to cut up their cards and write a stiff note to the company. I didn't have a card, but here was an even more convenient way to register my dislike of the chap. I rattled off a Google search.

"MBNA," I said. "Four million dollars to Bush last election, and probably more this time. I don't support the man and I don't want to help him. So, sorry. Not interested."

Ooops. We've gone off-script.

"I've never heard that one before! So you'll not be rooting for him in November?"

"No, I really don't approve of anything he does. There's an Internet campaign underway to stop people using MBNA, so you might hear it a few more times now."

"I completely understand. I feel just the same way myself. Sorry for bothering you!"

And with that, our brief conversation ended. Last week in San Fransisco, I had to disappoint a couple of register-to-vote campaigners by saying I very much doubted the American state wanted my opinion on such matters.  But now I hope there's a call report percolating upwards that will do some good in some way.

And who else is on the list of big Bush boosters - above even MBNA? Why, it appears to be Microsoft! Five million dollars, you say?

Thanks, but I'd rather pass.