Mole may have solved the biggest problem faced by users: how to have an easy life. Support is an expensive business and doing it properly places a considerable strain on profits, which is why most manufacturers prefer to pass the cost on to their customers. By compelling manufacturers to raise their standards, you would also raise their costs, reduce their margins and slow their growth. With fewer resources at their disposal, the rate of technology change would slow, which would result in less confused and more contented users. If manufacturers were forced to take support seriously, they would soon learn that it costs less to make products that don't go wrong than it does to fix the problems later.
The only remaining difficulty is how to promote an industry culture in which quality is the manufacturer's first principle. Market forces alone are probably not enough. Tough new legislation will be called for. If Mr Blair does not tackle this issue soon, Mole can see a time, in early January 2000, perhaps, when long-suffering users will boil over with rage, gather in howling bloodthirsty mobs and wreak havoc on the residents of Wokingham, Bracknell, Reading and Staines. Mark Mole's words: this will be revolution not evolution, and it will be ugly.
Last Wednesday some of Oracle's biggest customers got an early dose of the millennium bug. Several who use Oracle Applications invoked a process that for some reason added 1,000 days to shipping dates. Because the resulting date, 29 February 1900, doesn't fall in a leap year, the stupid software was thrown into total confusion, crashing the application and preventing several big companies from moving a single item from their warehouses.
Oracle engineers could only pray for midnight when the plus-thousand sum would find a date Blind Pugh the computer could actually recognise. How many other bugs of this quality are set to crawl out of our favourite software as the millennium creeps onto the system radar?
Meanwhile manufacturers show no sign of mending their ways. After last week's report about the new Microsoft policy of changing employees' names and sex to shield them from contact with troublesome customers, we hear of similar evasion tactics at Lotus, where customers experiencing difficulty are told to go to the web site and ask for one Dan Pohl. Luckily for Mr Pohl, messages sent to the site are returned with a message from the postmaster to say that he is not in the Lotus address book.
At least now Microsoft is coming clean about this sort of thing. Attached to some Microsoft packages is a sheet with "Help yourself" printed in big, bold lettering. As clear and honest a statement of customer support policy as we've had from Microsoft in a long time.
On a happier note, it's good to see Microsoft's sustained propaganda campaign for Windows NT is bearing fruit. Our finest trade publications are swallowing claims of scalability, security and performance and regurgitating them on their pages under glowing "enterprise server" style headlines.
It would be churlish to remind enterprise server fans that so flexible and robust is NT, that even a trivial operation like the connection of a modem requires the system to be rebooted.
The misappropriation of intellectual property rights is among the commonest crimes in the computer industry, with copyright and trademark law frequently used as competitive weapons. Spectacular battles have been fought (Lotus vs. Borland, Apple vs. Microsoft) over everything from product design to trade names. In an example of the latter, the Washington Post reports that a Virginia company registered "Internet" as a trademark in 1990, and has since threatened rivals with the law if they use it in their advertising.
Mole is rooting for Honors Technologies, the company concerned, and hopes it will tax anyone seeking to profit from its property. If the term ceased to be free, there would be very much less written about the Internet, which could only be a good thing.
A side benefit of such restrictions might be to cut down on the volume of allegedly humourous material in circulation on the web - you know the sort of thing: lists of 10 or more items that are lucky if they contain a single decent joke. One sent to Mole a few days ago stretched a tenuous comparison between the male member and Email to the limits with such double entendres as "Those who have it would be devastated if it were ever cut off" and "Those who have it think that those who don't are somehow inferior".
Mole mails these jokes to his girlfriend who sends him a message back to say they're not funny and, in any case, she has a headache.
For some curious reason, Microsoft has made its web site inaccessible with the AOL and CompuServe browsers. This does not look like a move calculated to increase Microsoft's chances of world domination, unless it thinks its site is a sufficiently big draw to persuade AOL and Compuserve customers to switch to MS Internet Explorer. Or perhaps Bill Gates is a reformed character devoted to the principle of fair market shares for all. The alternative explanation, that this is another Microsoft cock-up, is inconceivable.
It's official, Bill Gates wants to steal your children. On the Microsoft Internet site is an invitation to Web Summer Camp '97, an on-line event at which the company is promising to educate the young and impressionable in the art of recreational web design. The cost to parents of this indoctrination course is $95 per child - a small price to pay to give future generations the chance to enjoy Microsoft products just as we have done.
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