Rupert Goodwins' Diary

HP gets rather too hands on, SCO's secrets revealed, the birth of GooTube and the strange case of Symantec's R&D. And what can possibly go wrong for us on Friday 13th?

Monday 9/10/2006

HP has been busy staking out its Vision of the Future, and it looks like a manacle. Steady on, chaps. I know things have been a bit dodgy at the top, but there's no call for symbolic silicon bondage.

Thing is, even if you do take the device at face value, its form still follows function. The device is a wireless hub: the idea is that it contains all the radios you need to connect to different broadband services as well as the local high-speed networking for your personal devices. Which makes sense, if you want to put all your wireless Net connectivity into one basket — but the chances are that as broadband wireless connection costs fall, every device will grow its own.

What such a bracelet would have to contain, though, is every piece of personal ID you need to access multiple networks. It would be an absolutely unavoidable beacon on the face of the wired planet saying exactly where you were and what you did — perhaps not the sort of thing on which HP should overly dote. It would be a single point of access where the state or a disgruntled supplier could close you down, or use it to identify you as an undesirable not to be permitted access to places or things. As Orwell said: if you want a vision of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever. Only in this case, it'll be a prune-faced bureaucrat stamping "access denied" on the back of your hand — forever.

However, don't worry. HP has taken the wristwatch as its guiding metaphor — and wristwatches are so over. Adopted in the first world war as a necessity for trench warfare — "synchronise watches, we're going at oh five four five ack emma" — the device has served as status symbol and tool to enslave the waged of the world ever since. But it's losing ground fast: now everyone's got a mobile phone with the time on it, unadorned wrists are in. Pre-WW1, the wristwatch was a girly adornment, because the fairer sex wore bracelets without waistcoats, and it's going that way again. It's certainly unthinkable for any but the most screamingly metrosexual of men to wander around with HP's confection dangling from their radiocarpal joints. Pull a Nokia out of your fob pocket, you great hairy brute.

And every big company that's tried to do big things with wristwatches has made a great nana of itself. One thinks of Sinclair's Black Watch, one thinks of Microsoft's Spot Watches, one thinks of Intel's Microma. One even thinks of HP's HP-01 "wrist instrument" (which, although no commercial success, is admittedly desperately collectable).

Thanks for the futuristic dystopian frisson, HP, but don't bet the company on it.


Tuesday 10/10/2006

It was rumoured last week and it's true today: Google's bought YouTube. GooTube — or is it Yougle? — has achieved something unusual. No two people agree on how good an idea it is. The spectrum of responses ranges from rank idiocy to sublime genius, with most sprinkled somewhere around the middle.

The deal made Google money on the spot — at 2 percent of market cap, the stock swap pushed the share price up five points, and you have no idea how soiled I feel typing that sentence — and for that, the company gets 0.2 giga-eyeballs/day plus an enormous hosting bill.

The next question is: now that a $100bn company has taken charge of tens of millions of copyright infringements, will some of those copyright owners decide to send in their yellow-fanged lawyers? They might, but they'll have problems — as one disgruntled content owner said, the trouble with YouTube is that as soon as you complain about something, they take it down. Which, last time I looked, was a perfectly fair way to behave if you genuinely believe that most of your users aren't lying to you.

There may also be the glimmerings of realisation that the reason YouTube is working so well is that this is what the punters want — and perhaps it might be time to play along. When someone like Bill Gates admits happily to watching sport on YouTube, that war is over.

Let's say Google paid for good advice before slapping down their scrip, and that it shall come to pass that YouTube won't disappear tomorrow like a zebra carcass in a hyena feeding frenzy. What will they do with it?

It's Google. It'll do nothing tomorrow, and nothing the week after. It's happy that it's kept the biggest video-sharing brand out of Yahoo's grasp, although it nearly missed: Yahoo had the chance but couldn't close the deal — in a way it failed with Flickr.

There will be a time when we wander down jewel-encrusted online hallways, pausing to admire the AI's selection of user-contributed videos and bashfully offering our own, in whatever Googlefied Second Life environment the company has bought, grown or allowed to evolve. At the heart of that will be some ghostly YouTube DNA, and wrapped around it will be enhanced services, products and advertising best engineered to shift whatever money has become out of our virtual pockets.

It'll be beautiful, man. Trust me.

Or it's another sign of Bubble 2.0, and we'll all be back next year trying to rip off our mate's VHS tapes with a dusty old Amstrad VCR and flaky BNC to BNC leads.

Which way do you think it's going? Right. Me too.


Wednesday 11/10/2006

More news from America, where the serpent of the SCO vs IBM lawsuit is stirring in its sleep. The latest information — and the one thing in the past three-and-a-half years that rings the truest — comes from Larry Goldfarb, one of the chaps in charge of BayStar, an investment vehicle that coughed up $50m for SCO just before the company strapped on the breastplate of truth and grasped the trusty sword of righteousness, all the better to ride out into the Utah night and save fair maiden from evil dragon.

So far, the evil dragon is winning. However, Larry has now put a sworn deposition into the court saying that he was promised — PROMISED — that the dragon would turn tail and flee at the first sight of Brave Sir Darl, leaving a Huge Pile of Gold for all to share (especially Larry). And even if that didn't happen, he was promised — PROMISED — that the mighty king ensconced in Castle Redmond would see him right, know what I mean, guv?

Based on those promises, Larry handed over the Baystar bucks. It didn't take long for him to have misgivings, although he doesn't say exactly when he had the first nagging suspicions that in grown-up land, promises made without legally binding contracts are worth little more than fairy tales.

Perhaps it was when SCO's legal counsel didn't manage to show Larry the copper-bottomed evidence it said it had, which guaranteed the court case. Perhaps it was when Microsoft stopped returning his calls. Perhaps it was when he told SCO that he'd rather they concentrated on the lawsuit than making software which, if they lost, would be worth nothing, and if they won would be insignificant — and SCO ignored him.

In the end, the court statement sighs, he cashed in his chips and walked away some $35m the poorer. This is a fascinating insight into the way money works over there, and leaves me full of wonder.

According to Larry, three senior named Microsoft people were directly involved in convincing BayStar to hand over the money — something Microsoft has chosen not to deny.

No doubt we can expect some interesting statements to come from those people, courtesy of the IBM lawyers. In fact, there's a whole slew of new court documents coming to light, including — to his delight — an article by our very own Graeme "Scoop" Wearden, who also gets mentioned in dispatches by PJ at Groklaw for his recent article on the Goldfarb statement, which hooks in a lot of useful background. Which was, of course, triggered by Groklaw bringing the thing into the light in the first place.

One set of people have good ideas, then other people add their own particular brand of useful, so both sets of people receive a handsome return on their investments — and everyone else gets it for free.


Thursday 12/10/2006

Symantec has spent this week talking about how it's going to grow to a $10bn company on the back of its grandly named Security 2.0 initiative. Well, we'll see. There's much talk of evolving threat landscapes, integrated packages and corporate-wide initiatives, all the sort of things I'd be doing if I was trying to build a $10bn company.

I'm not. And that gives me the freedom to feel profoundly depressed by the whole idea. What Symantec is saying, in effect, is that everyone else's software is flawed to the tune of 10 to the power of nine — and that there's room for growth on top of that.

One thing I find most exciting for the future of security is the use of virtualisation to detect and defeat attacks, with flocks of computers co-operating to analyse, trace and characterise the threats. A virtualised system has the ability to stop and examine itself for unusual changes, no matter how cleverly they try to bury themselves in the operating system: networked systems have the ability to compare notes, to move thread signatures around through peer-to-peer, to combine log results and conduct frighteningly precise analysis on what appeared when and where.

That's a lot of work, and I'm sure you can spot hard problems there just as easily as I can, but you end up with a Net-wide immune system that could be largely self-supporting and actively dangerous to anyone trying to subvert it. How would you feel if, three hours after you released your nastyware, a map somewhere in the CIA had a tapestry of pulsing lines all converging on your point of release?

Threats don't exist in isolation — and neither do the systems that are threatened. But security companies — Symantec isn't, ahem, alone in this — make their money by presenting solutions in isolation. An "evolving threat landscape" is best countered by out-evolving the environment it inhabits, not sticking to a boy-in-the-bubble model.

But if I was trying to grow a company, perhaps I wouldn't be too thrilled by coming up with solutions that were able to look after themselves: what's more important to the shareholders, the cure or the ability to keep selling it? Last year, Symantec decided to unveil its Research Labs, which had precisely one person doing fundamental research and around 50 others doing stuff related to existing products. Still, they promised to hire 10 more this year — some of whom may have joined the solitary headscratcher. It's hard to say: the labs don't have their own Web pages. A quick spin through Google Scholar shows a sprinkling of publications, but for a company flogging itself as a hotbed of advanced innovation it merits a strong could-do-better. For one heading for that sort of turnover on the back of technological excellence, it's an embarrassingly tiny showing.

At least, in a nod to two-point-naughtiness, Symantec has a blog. Well done, Symantec. Admittedly, at the time of writing it seems to be mostly full of product announcements and people complaining that the company's removed functionality from its latest releases without telling anyone — but hey, you don't reach 10 bill without breaking a few eggs.

Friday 13/10/2006

It's Friday the 13th. What can possibly go wrong?

Oh boy. Where to begin?

We've got a corker of a story/we have it on very good authority that Vista in all its forms, together with Office and Exchange 2007, is due to have a launch on 5 December. In fact, our intrepid reporter Tom got it from the glottis of a Microsoft official at the very firstest of first hands. So, we publish.

Which makes it all the more marvellous that when fellow journalists on other publications phone up Microsoft HQ to confirm the story, it is stoutly denied. No way, they say. No idea what you're talking about. Since we're all in the great liberal media conspiracy together, the journos in question give us a buzz to see how well our story stands up.

"They're denying it!" our hacks-in-arms say. "Good!" we say. "That's another story!"

And indeed, one of Microsoft's multitudinous PRs gets on the blower to us shortly afterwards.

"No, absolutely not," says Weber Shandwick

"So when?"

"We've given a date range, and that's all we're saying."

"So why did a Microsoft executive give us an unambiguous date?"

"Can't say."

How odd. So, we get stuck into one of our internal Microsoft contacts.

It turns out that, oddly, everything is sort of true. Enterprise Vista in November, retail in January. And 5 December? A "launch event" for one particular public-sector segment, and only a tiny part of the rolling festival — if you will, Vistival — that MS has planned for us all. Not all launches are alike, and some live at the wrong end of the stick

This one's not really much of a story after all, so it heads towards the virtual spike. How annoying — almost as annoying as a DVD of Vista RC1 turning up in the post the day after RC2 hits the net.

But one Microsoftie has given us nothing but pleasure. Darren "Strangely" Strange, UK Product Manager for the 2007 Microsoft Office system, previously made me feel desperately old by turning up at our offices and looking like an escapee from the NME. But he's a good sport about some of Microsoft's sillier product names — and continues in that vein in a talkback to the report of our original encounter.

"Cheer up Rupert. For the record I am 35, and my blog link (which you omitted) is I agree with you on SmartArt and OneCare but the best Microsoft US brand was the name they gave for their beta cd. There were different kits, the largest of which was intended for lonely developers which in their wisdom they named the 'master beta kit'. Perhaps you can understand some of the challenges I face."

More than happy to promote the blog, Mr Strange, which is not only interesting but illustrated with happy pictures of blue screens of death. And we are happy to once again applaud your very British attitude to those double entendres that, in the words of Ronnie Barker, can mean only one thing.