The US does have some great things to offer. Take Driveways of the Rich and Famous, for example - a TV show and Website devoted purely to the stars and their vehicular access facilities. So far, the presenter, John Cunningham, has been shouted at by Sharon Stone and received a mouthful from Madonna. Bill Gates was his latest target.
Jack, the man in charge of Gates' gates, was a friendly gatekeeper. But he was not allowed to answer many questions and I found one particular aspect of the programme controversial. Jack revealed that his gatehouse, provided by the world's richest chief executive, was worth a paltry five dollars. From now on, this revelation will surely be known as Gatesgate.
A continental shift
The US can also be a bit too complacent. Europe is actually 'using the internet', according to Silicon Valley media sources. Surprise, surprise.
We are not prepared to throw everything at the internet yet, but we do have the technology and we use it.There is surprise here that 'the rolling hills of southern Belgium, which are littered with abandoned coal mines and steel plants', could house a Siemens Nixdorf research lab. It has also come as a shock that many sites may not actually appear in English - the insular nature of US culture means people forget that their adopted language is not used by everyone else.
Wonderful as the American innovations in online technology are, the world does not blithely follow the US. We have other languages, business practices and customs. And we play football, not soccer.
You NC nothin' yet
Silicon Valley executives are talking about network computing rather than network computers, and the latest research here shows network computers are not living up to their hype. Compared to 90 million PCs, Dataquest says only 144,000 NCs shipped in 1997, and it only predicts a four-fold increase for this year.
Analysts also scoff at WebTV's predictions of one million subscribers by the end of 1998, and so do I - PCs will be almost as cheap as WebTVs by then.
Dedicated follower of fashion
San Francisco may be a bustling, cosmopolitan metropolis, but US backwaters and towns in the middle of nowhere are being invaded by computers and marketing. They are even dictating fashion to impressionable youths that are yet to discover guns.
First it was hair designs with the Nike logo shaved into them. Now, in the fashion-starved Midwest, some 18 year-old lad has got his first tattoo - an Apple logo. I must be too old to be fashionable.
Working together in legal harmony
When a Var and a vendor become partners, they need trust. The vendor trusts that the Var will not dump it in favour of a competitor with lower prices, and the Var trusts the vendor will not offer its customers direct accounts.
This has prompted Bay Networks to do something about it. It has taken the step of issuing a booklet, Principles of Engagement, on the rules and behaviour expected by both sides. They range from the obvious 'discuss roles and responsibilities during account planning', to the ominous 'disclose significant changes in advance'.
But Bay does not want to release all the terms because it does not trust competitors not to steal the carefully worded and painstakingly collected guidelines. Vars should also take care not to give the booklet to any of Bay's rivals. 'Maintain loyalty throughout the process,' as the booklet states.
One careful owner
Netscape may have had a hard time lately and its channel policy, strategy and competitive position left it open to criticism that no amount of cost-cutting can solve its problems. But I am convinced the company will not be sold unless it really wants to find a partner.
Why? Because Silicon Valley insiders claim Jim Clark says it won't sell.
As founder and chairman, he can say this with some clout, but as a shareholder he can say it with complete confidence - he owns 20 per cent and can effectively decide what Netscape will do.
All books and no brains
It seems that top-tier universities can do no wrong. If Harvard says something, Silicon Valley companies listen and everyone nods in agreement.
So nobody really knew what to say when a story from Stanford broke very quietly in April. It seems the geniuses at Stanford Business School upgraded some servers and erased the files on the machines, including important files owned by professors and students.
Naturally, the Stanford computer experts took backup copies of the data on the servers, didn't they? Er, no. Retake Computer Science 101.
Heading for the top score
Despite the great games provided by British software companies and Japanese hardware vendors, the US remains the sector's leading market. Silicon Valley got very excited recently when a company called Video Computer came up with a great idea to give players a 'more complete experience' when killing creatures for hours on end.
No, it is not a real laser gun, but a super-joystick. Actually, it's a head-mounted unit which responds to head movements, with two arms covering the ears and one more reaching around the back of the head to the forehead.
The sleek-looking design even includes built-in headphones.
However, Video Computer is not a US firm - it's Italian. I cannot find any fault with this beautiful feat of engineering. As long as it does not rust and break down in the middle of town, of course, like some other examples of Italian engineering.
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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