I went to Los Angeles for Internet World recently and I could tell you about the plastic people, the awful traffic and the eerie smog. But the most interesting thing about the trip was the show itself.
The major worry I would have as a standholder would be justifying the expense on the event with a tangible effect on sales, but I was surprised by the number people actually buying products. If it is an indication of future trends, get into internet telephones because that is what people were buying.
Wish upon a star
Oracle CEO Larry Ellison has said a lot about the network computer (NC).
A lot of it has been wishful thinking, hot air or plain rubbish, but he usually makes a good point and I like listening to him because he makes sense.
But through everything he says, right or wrong, he sticks with his ideas; the thoughtless man's thinking man, perhaps. His latest take on the NC is an ideal example. Ellison used to evangelise that the NC would replace the PC in many uses. Then, he revised his words to suggest it will extend the use of computers into more places than the PC reaches.
For about 18 months, his public speeches have revolved around the NC, but now, it seems, he is reloading and shifting his aim. Silicon Valley insiders suggest Ellison's new sermon - to be delivered whenever he speaks in public - will be about the operating system.
It seems Ellison is convinced PC and NC users will use all their applications within their browser, which starts up when the computer boots. This means we will all have one look and feel to use, one open standard and one application type to worry about. Java will be increasingly important, we won't be locked into Windows and everything will work through browsers.
No more conflicts between programs. No more drivers. No more control-alt-delete.
It all sounds like pie in the sky. But, as usual with Ellison's evangelistic ideas, I hope he is right.
Mummy's little darling
Hewlett Packard launched its Electronic World initiative, a co-ordinated business system for the internet, at Internet World (PC Dealer, 18 March).
I had the pleasure of listening to a personal explanation of HP's strategy.
Fortunately, my briefing was complete with pictures, diagrams and interesting ideas about the future. Everything was typically HP. The ideas were good.
The strategy made sense. The technology was impressive. It was dull. But one thing stood out - the internet division's idea about the future use of personal digital assistants.
HP predicts that one day, mothers will send messages from their PDAs to appear remotely at home. A message would appear instantly on the fridge, like magic, saying 'please turn on the oven', 'get your homework done', or even 'stop doing that to the dog or it's straight to bed with no dinner'.
George Orwell was right. Big Mamma is watching you.
Taking the Mickey
A rumour circulating Silicon Valley is that Disney is thinking about buying Apple. There is no official comment, of course, but the fit seems good.
Apple is big in the education and children's markets; Disney is gargantuan.
Both have expanded their business plans to cover multimedia in a multitude of ways. Steve Jobs, Apple interim chief executive, who appears to be around for an indefinite interim, has close ties with Disney because of Pixar Animation Studios, his film animation supply company.
Some observers claim Disney cannot be interested because Apple does so much more than the simple Web pages, software and multimedia that Disney is operating in at the moment. But I think that gives the rumour even more credence because Disney has an eye on the future and wants more technological clout. It's certainly possible. In the US, the country where marketing rules, Mickey works in mysterious ways.
Swings and roundabouts
The US Supreme Court has made a ruling that may ensure grey importing continues. It has decided that US manufacturers cannot invoke copyright laws when they try to stop grey importers bringing products back into the US. The judge ruled the copyright holder relinquishes control of the product once it is sold - at home or overseas - no matter the price.
The distributors and retailers here say it is a victory for American consumers - and themselves, of course - but manufacturers claim they will be harmed because they cannot guarantee the quality of exported and subsequently imported products.
This means it is legal to buy US products at cheap prices in Europe, then sell them back to US companies at low prices - lower prices than they can buy them for. Now, your only problem is finding US products at lower prices in Europe.
Despite the evidence that Apple seems to be making a minor comeback, Mac enthusiasts have an unlimited supply of stories to tell us how much better the Mac is than the PC.
The latest I have heard involves some Macs in a local school. Apart from the major cost-saving the schoolteachers claim from upgrading Macs, its standing in the Mac world is set to become legendary.
The school saved all its technology budget by taking 30 Apple IIs out of a skip.The only problem was it rained when the lorry was bringing the machines to the school and they all got soaked. The naive teachers simply took the machines, tilted them over some paper towels and waited for them to dry. Three weeks later, they turned the Apple IIs on. Amazingly, they worked. So, the school put network cards in the Macs and have been using them - all 30 of them - for the past two years.
James Harding is US editor of VNU Newswire, based in San Francisco.
He can be reached at [email protected] or on 00 1 650 306 0879.
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