Tee hee! A marketing manager of my acquaintance has a job supporting a software outfit's ERP (enterprise resource planning) side. ERP is dead sexy at the moment, being a posh way of selling hugely expensive software to huge corporates in order to let them stare at huge figures. One of my pal's recent contacts with the press came from a veteran journalist at VNU, our friendly competitor from up the road.
"Hi there," said the hack. "I'd like to talk to you about ERP: The New Legacy Systems."
(Legacy, in case you've missed it, is the current gently snide techy term for anything that's been around for more than a year and is thus obviously so out of date as to be hardly worth a thought)
"Humph" said the marketing manager. "You work for one of those publications printed on paper, don't you? Aren't they the new legacy media?"
Fifteen-all, I'd say.
"Iridium..." says my contact, sadly. "Poor old Iridium". Can they be talking about the leading light of the space age, the orbiting telecommunications system with 66 satellites girdling the globe? The company which launched with enormously expensive adverts last November and which has been maintaining an enormously expensive silence ever since?
Yep. "Some sums were slightly incorrect. It wasn't until they got all the satellites up and in final test that they discovered certain interference issues. All those powerful transmitters next to all that sensitive electronics -- well, something had to give. A few extra bits of tin in the right place would've helped, but you can't do a product recall from low earth orbit."
I buy them another drink, and they continue. "Of course, they've fixed it now with some clever software updates and a bit of reconfiguration. But it took a while."
So they're back on course?
"Er, no. The real trouble comes from some other sums. When Iridium did the costings versus revenue, GSM roaming wasn't working. It is now, and you can cover most of the bits of the world you want with an ordinary cellphone for a fraction of the price of poor old Iridium. And it can't cut their pricing, not with that infrastructure. And then there's a whole load of competition from new satellite systems..."
Well, we shall see.
High entertainment from a minister of the crown? Surely not. But reports filter in of a meeting involving the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Kim Howells, and various representatives of business and consumers. Seems Our Kim has been playing around on the Internet, and some of the things he's found have roused him to righteous indignation. "I went to order a CD from Amazon.com," he said, "and it cost me fifteen dollars. Then I thought to look on Amazon.co.uk -- seventeen pounds ninety-nine pee!" His outrage was palpable: could this be the prelude to some actual consumer action by HMG? One would hope so, but is Howells strong enough to resist the lobbyists who knobbled the last MMC investigation into these enormous disparities?
Perhaps he is. A question from the floor asked him about the DTI's e-commerce folderol. "I've only just heard about key escrow", he said (charmingly pronouncing it to rhyme with 'dough'), and I don't like it. I'm a libertarian anarchist, and the Internet is a libertarian anarchistic place..." Golly! You don't hear that every day from Blair's mob.
Well, we shall see.
No names, no libel lawyers, but here's a sad tale from an educational establishment somewhere in our green and pleasant. An IT lecturer had a great idea -- he'd get his students to learn about the real world by giving them a load of gash kit, lots of copies of Linux and telling them to go forth and Build A Network. He gave them a sense of identity, encouraged them to play around, prodded them in the right direction... and lo, within a reasonable amount of time they were having great fun. Along the way they managed to build a working intranet, Web presence on the Net and what by any standards would be a very creditable project.
The powers that be were furious. Why, that couldn't be Real IT. Real IT meant doing it the way THEY did it -- masses of NT servers, Microsoft web software, teams of trained people... shame that after several years of Real IT there was still no Web site. Clearly, something was wrong -- and our chap was (and is) suspended for unprofessionalism. The students were forced to take Linux off their computers and put on Windows 3.1 (yes, really).
I know more: I can't say. But the real tragedy isn't that an eccentric, talented educator has been given the short end of the stick. It's that a load of kids who were learning the sort of skills which are worth jewels and gold have had a brilliant opportunity taken away from them, all due to the sort of internal politics for which the English educational establishment was always renowned but for which it is now becoming truly infamous.
Cold winds are blowing through Usenet, that rag-bag collection of un-moderated discussion which floods the planet like so much playground chatter. Chap called Laurence Godfrey found an obscene message purporting to be from him: he decided to sue the people who carried it. Which happens to be any ISP who has that newsgroup -- and in a pre-trial hearing today, Judge Justice Moreland ruled that ISPs may indeed have responsibility for every message they transfer. Demon is the UK ISP selected for this bit of judicial nonsense, which is about as sensible as making the Highways Authority responsible for anyone who happens to speed on the M25.
We don't know the full text of the pre-trial judgement, but it's clearly got precious little to do with reality. If Demon lose, then no ISP will have any choice but to turn off all message forwarding -- presumably including Web access, newsgroups and any form of publicly distributed information -- which can't be censored. In other words, it'll be the end of the Internet in the UK.
Or perhaps the judge doesn't quite understand what the Internet actually is or how it operates. It wouldn't be the first time.
We're going to be watching this one very closely indeed.