News of a novel solution to the millennium problem reaches Mole from the former Soviet Union, where the government has admitted that as many as a hundred nuclear warheads have gone missing since the end of the Cold War. No Year 2000, no problem, as they say in Russian IT departments. Mole makes a mental note to dig out his plans for a lead-lined burrow and stock up on tinned foods.
If you were to list the qualities desirable in a technical director of an IT firm, they would surely include a strong grasp of the potential of new technology tempered by a rational and practical view of what is actually possible. Where does this leave the claim once made by Dominic Murphy to have met a man who had built an anti-gravity machine in a garage in Glasgow? Mr Murphy, who was sober when he recounted this tale, is now technical director at web consultancy Netposition. Fortunately for him and others, a sense of reality is not yet a requirement of doing business on the Internet.
At the other end of the technology scale you will find SAP consultants.
A bunch of them turned up at a customer's site and spent half an hour unsuccessfully trying to marry a Belgian telephone jack with a BT socket. Just as someone produced the appropriate adaptor, the laptop they were attempting to connect started bleeping a warning that its batteries were nearly exhausted, at which point the clever fellows reached for the power supply only to face their second technical challenge of the day: a continental plug. As the customer put it, rather gloomily, "And these guys are configuring our SAP system ..."
Mole has no idea who handles Oracle's advertising, but whoever it is should be sacked at once for missing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to score a direct hit on Microsoft. Having outgrown its headquarters in Winnersh, Berkshire, Microsoft is moving into new purpose-built premises at the Thames Valley Park, where Oracle will be its next door neighbour.
This happy proximity ("Mr Holyfield, meet your new neighbour Mr Tyson") is sure to make for much harmless entertainment in future, but for now, only one of the three Microsoft buildings is up; the other two are still at the rubble stage. So when are we going to see the ad from Oracle which shows its own not terribly pretty but undisputably complete edifice standing next to the Microsoft building site?
It doesn't take a creative genius to spot the possibilities. "At least ours is finished", perhaps, or a caption under the Oracle picture saying "open for business" next to one reading "still under development".
Best suggestion from Mole's immediate circle: "Once again, Oracle gets there first." Readers who fancy a career in advertising will no doubt have their own ideas. Mole looks forward to hearing them.
Beneath the veneer of unity the alliance of Apple and Microsoft is as unholy a thing as you can find this side of Hades. It's hard to know how Apple users, still struggling to come to terms with the loss of their cult status, will cope with the latest marketing wheeze from Apple, though Mole suspects it may rather cheer them up. Bill Gates, on the other hand, may be less well pleased. Apple has long fed its followers propaganda in the shape of "support packs". Enclosed with the one that went out this month is a 12-page pamphlet entitled "75 Macintosh Advantages", the overall effect of which is to make it clear that Windows 95 sucks. Here is a small selection:
- The Mac OS has fewer viruses;
- PCs can lose valuable information if their batteries fail;
- The Mac OS is more stable than Windows 95;
- Mac users are the most brand loyal of all computer users.
Best of all in the interests of a harmonious relationship with its major shareholder is the 75th "advantage". "Dual users prefer their Macintosh."
A reader has kindly pointed out an "error" in last week's issue, when the same letter appeared twice on the same page. Bearing in mind the theme of the letter, which was about hype, how do you know it was a mistake?
Somewhat less defensible is the caption that appeared under a picture of Gordon Young on page eight. It reads, "Young: small enough to hold in the palm of your hand." Our apologies to Mr Young (and Mrs Young if there is one) for the nudging and sniggering that will have greeted this item.
You might reasonably suppose that the problem with most software is that it doesn't work properly. Well, you'd be wrong. According to a luminary named David Gelertner, the real problem is that software is ugly. In an essay entitled "Machine Beauty: Elegance and the Heart of Computing", Mr Gelertner expands this theory. "Most computer technologists don't like to discuss it, but the importance of beauty is a consistent (if sometimes inconspicuous) thread in the software literature. Beauty is more important in computing than anywhere else in technology ..." Expect Microsoft to announce Naomi Campbell Thin-Client for Windows 98 (requires only 12K of memory to run) to howls of protest from politically correct do-gooders as they stand up for fat, ugly software everywhere.
If you have strong views on anything in this column, or simply wish to furnish Mole with material for as yet unpenned pieces, write to the address above or ring 0171 316 9068.
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