A major breakthrough has been made by researchers at Hewlett-Packard and the University of California, who have discovered a chemical process that can be used to create computer components on a molecular scale. What this means, according to the boffins, is that it will soon be possible to fit something with the power of 100 of today's workstations into a device the size of a grain of salt. Scientists are now working on a way to shrink the human hand to fit the keyboards of the new generation of ultra-small machines.
Much excitement has been expressed at the prospect of the first chemically engineered computers, which could be as much as 100 billion times faster than a Pentium. But if would-be users are getting hot under the collar, not everyone can be expected to share their enthusiasm. At Microsoft, for example, each new leap in computational power poses fresh problems.
When new hardware appears, Microsoft's elite team of bloatware developers has to find a way to consume all the available processing power and storage space, leaving just enough to render the computer barely usable. This principle is enshrined in the company's secret covenant with Intel (a copy of which is posted on the wall of Mole's study, next to his signed photograph of Bill Gates). This document describes the dynamics of the computer industry as we know it: Intel increases computational power by a factor of x, whereupon Microsoft immediately increases the appetite of its software for processor cycles and megabytes of storage by the same factor. Without this formula, computers would last for years, severely undermining the replacement market on which Intel relies for much of its sales. Microsoft would also suffer because if customers were no longer replacing their hardware every two years, it would be harder to persuade them to upgrade their software.
To date, Microsoft engineers have done a magnificent job of keeping up, with software that requires acres of disk space and top-of-the-range microprocessors, but the company is worried that the molecular computers may be so powerful that even a full installation of Office 2000 will not be enough to bring them to their knees. There are some clever people at Microsoft, though, and Mole is confident that by the time the generation of super-computers appears they will have got the problem licked.
Microsoft is not the only company to fear the consequences of HP's discovery.
The effect on any hardware manufacturer stuck with conventional technology when the new machines come out would be fatal. Indeed, the effects are already being felt. A visitor to the Action Computer Supplies Web site found evidence that IBM is prepared to throw in the towel. While she was searching the IT listings for networking bargains, she found the following entry "1 IBM for sale for £800.81". Potential buyers should be warned that although the offer price is attractively low, the running costs of a global IT concern can be considerable.
Trouble on the high seas after Sun invited some of its closest software partners to go sailing. A pleasant enough notion until you remember that among the invited guests was a group from Oracle, a company well known for its buccaneering approach to business and for having unusually high numbers of staff with hooks, peg-legs and chronic rum habits. All was going well until the Oracle Bluebeards rammed the Cap Gemini boat, putting a large hole above the waterline. Anxious to keep the peace, Sun generously agreed to pick up the bill for the damage. A not-exactly contrite member of the Oracle crew was heard to mutter: "We were really trying to get Informix."
The Fawcett online book selling service is a fine advertisement for Alan Cooper's book The Lunatics are Running the Asylum. Attracted by an offer on the book, a reader placed an order on the Fawcett site, but kept meeting an unspecified error in entering his personal details. This happened five times until he noticed that the status of his order was pending shipping.
He waits with interest to see how many copies of the book will eventually arrive. Its theme, incidentally, is "how talented people continually design bad software-based products".
Fortunately for the banks, New Year's Eve is a bank holiday, giving IT staff half of the 30th and all of the 31st to do whatever has to be done to avoid Y2K damage. Unfortunately for the banks, their greed will probably be their undoing. Ask yours if it will be open on the 31st - the odds are that it will. The banks must be very sure of their millennium preparations if they think it's worth risking Y2Khaos for a mere day's extra business. Insiders reckon that the late opening policy will, at best, mean that most banks won't be able to get their computers back up to normal business levels until 3 January. Staff expected to work the first weekend of the year should stop whining and start negotiating appropriate overtime rates now.
Fusion 99, Microsoft's beano for resellers, has just ended. The point of these events is to butter up the resellers in the hope that they will be loyal and work hard on your behalf. But the address from Bill Gates, far from rallying delegates to the cause, was so dull that it sent most of them into a light coma. One delegate said Mr Gates showed so little animation that he suspected Microsoft of having had him killed off and replaced with an Actimates Bill. The high point of the day was the Solution Partner of the Year award ceremony, but only because it prompted an immediate stampede for the exits. The winner, apparently under the illusion that he was picking up the MTV Music Best Male Artist award, proceeded to thank "Mom, dad and God". Nausea ensued among the few delegates who had stayed to listen.
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