A quiet day -- the US is having a party to celebrate beating the Brits -- but not without its mystery. From China comes news of "IPV9", a strange new Internet Protocol that defies description but has already been "tested and popularised" according to reports in the People's Daily. No further technical information was forthcoming, and across the Western world the air was loud with the sounds of heads being scratched.
Could this be a repeat of the Chinese WAPI incident, where the country declared that all wireless networks would have to conform to a new government standard -- details of which were not forthcoming? Once again, the effect was confusion and uncertainty on the part of the Western suppliers -- with Intel notably giving out two different responses to the problem in one Developer Forum session. In the end, Intel and others said that they couldn't supply equipment under those conditions, WAPI got made part of some very high level trade talks and in the end it was quietly dropped. I still don't think anyone ever found out exactly what it was.
Not the case this time. After a lot of digging, it transpired that IPV9 was the brainchild of one person, who had been promoting it without too much official support. It wasn't a complete Internet protocol, though, just some tweaks to addressing and DNS that let the Chinese address Web sites through phone numbers (a similar project, called ENUM, is already going through the approval process at the IETF). So stand down, chaps, it doesn't look too serious.
Nonetheless, nobody should ever assume the Chinese will play the game according to Western rules. The place is very keen on local standards for local people; it has its own cellphone systems (one called Little Demon isn't even compatible between cities) and video CD formats, and is certainly not adverse to keeping the outside world at a disadvantage by tweaking things. If you think open versus closed has been a pitched battle so far, the best is yet to come.
Off to the BBC for my first appearance on funksome digital channel BBC3. I'm booked to pop up on the 7 o'clock news, presented by one of my broadcasting heros Eddie Mair. We nattered about spyware, and after the show I asked him how he manages to do both the BBC3 TV show and the Radio 4 PM programme, which goes out an hour earlier. "Drugs" he said, laconically -- but the man's clearly in thrall to nothing stronger than a double espresso. Also appearing on the show was Nick Lewis, CEO of Webroot UK , a company that does SpySweeper -- well-regarded anti-spyware software.
"Tell you what," he said afterwards. "I'll email you a copy and you can have a look at it." Fine -- I spend a lot of time trying to decontaminate friends' PCs these days and when it comes to spyware removal software you can't have too much.
Next day, as promised, there was the email with a three-meg attachment. Or rather, there was the email with a snotty note from our email gateway saying "According to company policy, the attachment has been removed". I wouldn't mind, only company policy also seems to include letting through spam of increasingly violent and disturbing natures. Can we keep the useful files and throw away the scum? Only asking.
So we tried via Gmail -- also failed, and we don't know why. Eventually, the long-suffering Nick promised to put a copy on a memory stick and send it via the post. Ah, technology!
But even this avenue could be blocked, if enough people take heed of a report from Gartner. This says that all these funky new gadgets -- memory sticks, digital cameras, iPods and so on -- can function as very capacious portable hard drives and are thus hideous security risks. They can thus act as conduits to deliver tons of nasty spyware and viruses, or virtual carrier bags to half-inch gigabytes of corporate secrets. Companies should ban all such devices from secure areas, said the report.
Which will never work. My phone, my iPod, my PDA and my camera would have to go, as would my keyring USB drive. I don't have a USB drive watch or pen, but I could do, and I've seen some cut-down USB drives that dispense with most of the hardware around the connector and are thus skinny enough to slip behind a credit card in your wallet. And while there's a case to be made that I don't need an iPod or a camera to do my job, PDAs and phones are a different matter.
The answer isn't to ban this stuff, but to secure the ports. Why should a USB port lie on its back and stick its legs in the air begging to be tickled just because a stranger's stuck his drive in? A bit more thought and a little less banning, or none of this stuff will be any use whatsoever.
Children of the 80s rejoice! Sir Clive Sinclair is at it again! This time, he's popped up in Singapore, the market he's chosen as the first beneficiary of his latest invention, the A Bike. You won't be surprised to hear that this is a curious device: a pedal-powered folding bicycle that looks like a giant A with tiny wheels. Portable enough to carry with one hand, it concertinas down to a two foot by one foot space. It's mostly plastic, weighs just 5.5 kilograms, and can go at up to 15mph.
Sir Clive is very excited, saying that it has the capacity to revolutionise the way we move around cities. They said that about the Segway and people laughed, but then the Segway costs slightly more than the £160-ish that the A Bike is scheduled to require. Going on sale worldwide in 2005 -- although manufacturing will remain in Singapore -- I'll be sure to get a ride as soon as I can and I'll report back.
Looks useful, to be honest, although there is the risk -- as with so many Sinclair products -- that you'll look like a bit of a plonker riding one. As long as it doesn't collapse in mid-pedal, and as long as those tiny wheels don't get stuck in ruts and craters, it could be a genuine success.
And yes, says Sir Clive, there is an electric variant in development.
Bet we end up peddling anyway (a C5 veteran writes).
To Sendo, where the company's sponsorship of the Ducati motorbike racing team is being celebrated with beer, dolly birds and the bikes themselves. I have little interest in motorbikes, although I must admit that the specimens on display are quite beautiful in their gawky functionality. As for the Grid Girls, also known as the Brolly Dollies, they are charged with holding umbrellas over the racers as they wait for the off: at the party, they sashay around in tiny skirts and dispense free VIP invites to see them perform at their other job -- dancers at the world-renowned Spearmint Rhino gentlemen's club. Alas, my interest in such matters is on a par with that I have for the bikes, so I give my VIP passes away to freelance hackette Hilda Breakspear. She exclaims that she knows just what to do with them. I forebear to ask.
The evening proceeds and everyone looks forward keenly to the denouement, when a draw will be made of business cards and one lucky punter will get a Sendo X. Cooo! There's also a selection of other goodies -- hats, spangly crash helmets (very posh crash hats, according to experts), T shirts and so on. I of course win nothing, and fellow ZDNetter Jonno Bennett has to be content with a baseball cap and a female-cut T-shirt (which he promptly gives to Hilda, who is doing well so far). Dan, from What Mobile, wins a helmet -- which he looks at bemusedly -- and the lucky winner of the Sendo X is.. is… Tony Dennis!
Now, Tony is the last person on earth who needs a Sendo X. He's not called Tone the Phone for nothing: he already *has* a Sendo X (unlike certain people… sniff) as well as three other phones, and those are just the ones he's carrying around with him this evening.
But he also has a past. One of the things he used to do in it was write about motorbikes -- and he covets the helmet that Dan has won. A quick swap later, and happiness reigns. However, does he also have a bike? He does, but it's in bits in his garage -- a condition it's enjoyed for nearly four years. Hilda and I extract from him the promise that he will rebuild his steed and take to the roads once more in two weeks' time.
Will he make it? Will we be treated to the sight of his leonine figure roaring around town in a cloud of burning rubber? Will the streets of London be safe with a raddled old comms journalist in leather?
We shall report back in a fortnight.
There is, as you may have noticed, no little discussion these days about the future of Microsoft. It may or may not be in the first stages of big company stagnation, but it's certainly looking for new territories to conquer. Google, for example.
Microsoft has spotted that Google has a nice clean user interface -- and has copied it, lack of warts and all, for the MSN search. It's also spotted that Google is a far superior search engine, and has thus declared the Microsoft version will be 10 times better. The hard bit, making it 10 times better, has yet to appear -- but hey, you know Microsoft consistently overdelivers on expectations. We have no doubt that its search engine update will follow in that great Microsoft tradition.
But there's one small point where one might suspect Microsoft of being mean-spirited. If you type an incomplete or erroneous URL into Internet Explorer, it sends what you typed to MSN -- which then does a search, or whatever. You might not think you're using MSN Search or sending stuff to Microsoft, but you are. Microsoft becomes the third most popular search engine on the Net by default -- despite nobody deciding they'd want to use it -- and you're happy because… because. Well. Because.
Let's say that for some unfathomable reason you decide you don't want to do this, and wish to decline Microsoft's kind offer of a helping hand. Surely, you might think, this behaviour by the browser must be customisable. You may even go through the various settings in IE to find out how to do it. Silly! So keen is Microsoft to give your life on the Internet an MSN Search flavour, it's kept that option well away from users. You can fix it -- of course, Microsoft encourages diversity and choice -- but you have to edit the registry. I am indebted to Dave Farber's Interesting People mailing list for revealing this, because I've looked long and hard for the solution many times.
The secret is described in Microsoft Knowledge Base article 198279 -- "How to change the default AutoSearch search page" -- and, carefully wrapped in caveats about ruining your computer system if you press the wrong button in regedit, the information is presented. It's not just a question of bashing in the URL of the search engine you'd rather use, as you've got to include the extra string magic to pass the parameters from within IE -- a few extra terms on the URL, that varies from search engine to search engine.
So Microsoft, ever the helpful butler, provides a load of pre-rolled URLs you can cut and paste into your registry. Altavista, Yahoo, Ask Jeeves -- every search engine you've heard of is there and ready for action. Well, almost every.
There's one missing. You may be able to guess which one that might be. And while the tenor of the document suggests it may have been written pre-Google, it was checked and updated this May.
Microsoft? Prone to mean-spirited ineffective gestures that make it look foolish? Such a shame that these oversights might make people think that.
(Oh, heads-up. Or rather, heads off. We may need a new editor, following a disagreement with the Palace. Her Maj the Queen popped in to the Tower of London (over the road from our offices) this afternoon, in order to open a new bit, try on the crown, polish her baubles or whatever. Our glorious leader Matt Loney was in the Friday news meeting when office supremo Sharon -- of whom so much could be said -- popped her head around the door and said "Matt! You've got to move your bike! The police insist! It's a security hazard for the Royal Visit!" Matt promptly expressed a very Republican opinion involving his bicycle pump and what would doubtless end up as Queenie's second Annus Horribilis. "Treason!" we yelled. We're waiting for the Beefeaters to come and drag him away…)
(And one final note: this month's Load of Pollocks Award goes to Jim Shepherd, an analyst at AMR Research in Boston, who said: "The thing to realise is that the ERP market is a very small market. The reality is that the Fortune 1000 only has 1,000 companies." We've asked him to investigate the FT100 -- who knows what he'll find out there).