While having a drink and a snack in his local pub last week, a 26-year-old Coventry chap came across a pork scratching that looked like the Madonna and Child. Later he said he couldn?t understand what all the fuss was about when the tabloids splashed the discovery of his Holy Snack across their news pages.
Well, I can understand what all the fuss is about. It?s called Millennium Fever. People are starting to get seriously unhinged by the countdown to 21st century chaos, and we?re going to get even madder as the great night approaches ? certainly the psychological pressure is on software engineers working on the Millennium Timebomb.
There?s also some doubt about that other timebomb ? the uncertainty about whether 2000 is a leap year. As we all know, any year divisible by four has an extra day. But there?s an exception to that rule ? the first year of a new century doesn?t leap, even though it?s divisible by four. But there is an exception to that rule too ? if the new century is also divisible by 400 (such as 1600) then it is a leap year. At least, that seemed to be the case until some expert suggested recently that millennium years were exceptions to that exception to the exception to the rule. Got that?
Anyway, if you are absolutely sure there?s a 29 February in 2000, then go ahead and start advising your customers or start the programming for them. If not, you?re going to need nerves of steel to keep sane in a world going millennium crazy, because there are so many open-ended political and economic questions to be resolved relating to the computer industry. In order to face the new millennium, we?re going to need some clear-cut answers.
Last week, while Britain pondered the Miracle of the Pork Scratching, Bill Clinton and Al Gore were hosting a White House reception for computer industry executives at which Clinton outlined a few government initiatives to stimulate e-commerce and divest itself of any attempts to regulate the Net. The Clinton administration will also actively lobby for the internet to be a worldwide tax-free zone. At last, some clear answers are emerging about US internet policy.
It?s easy to forget that the internet is a European invention that was taken over by US companies. As the Net develops into a broadcast and business medium, US businesses not only want to control the technologies used on it, they also want to be the leaders in the growing global market. Can the UK or Europe let them take that lead? What hope will little English resellers have against US dealer and distribution giants with global ambitions operating on the Net?
What have we had from our government in recent years that measures up to that growing US resolve? There have been a few DTI sponsored initiatives, mainly trying to make political capital out of porn on the Net, but nothing on the scale of Clinton?s decision to order federal government institutions to purchase four million items online to kickstart electronic procurement.
So what should the Blair administration do to encourage a similar revolution in the UK? Well, laying to rest the uncertainty about monetary union would be a good place to start. A commitment to a European currency is something that most of the channel?s big corporate customers and all of the global corporations want. They can then dovetail the accounting changes into moves towards e-commerce.
But where does Blair?s government stand on internet tax? I don?t see it necessarily being a direct copy of Clinton?s plan. As sales move online and cross-border in Europe, traditional tax revenues will be greatly affected. The EU?s attitude to taxation on the Net will be played out in an entirely different context from the US. For the first few decades of the next century we will be most concerned with converging monetary systems and balancing taxation across EU national boundaries. The US, however, is more worried about software piracy in China and Third World countries.
Despite the differences, the UK government should borrow one thing from the US blueprint. The Net needs government stimulus ? not just in terms of government agencies using it, but also in terms of making the move on to the internet a desirable move by businesses. What about tax breaks for those that do? UK businesses are going to need all the help they can get if they?re to survive the European and global opportunities that the millennium will usher in.
Maybe we should start praying that the message gets through to the Iron Chancellor before next year?s Budget. And keep your eyes peeled for a pork scratching that looks like Gordon Brown.
Joe Macri says the vendor saw 20 per cent of its UK growth come from its Cloud Solution Provider programme last year
Pure set for further acquisitions, with a focus on the south-east
Reports claim BlackBerry is in talks over a $1.5bn deal