Loose cables is an irreverent look behind the scenes at testing computer products, in particular at IDG's Infoworld lab in the US. Our insights are gleaned during the long hours spent testing, and even longer hours spent sorting through outrageous vendor claims and press releases. Some of the insights are technical, some are political, and some are just funWhy do some of the most pressing needs of the industry go unmet while technology companies race towards the IP-enabled toaster? Take browsers for example. Arguably the most frequently used software on the desktop, why are all (er, we mean both) of them so buggy?
We've come up with a potential solution, and we'd like dibs on the acronym: RAUB -- the redundant array of unreliable browsers. What we're envisioning is a small application that keeps two or more browsers in sync as we cruise the Internet.
When one of the browsers crashes, the RAUB controller brings the backup browser to the top, with the destination page already loaded and ready to read. Meanwhile, the RAUB controller restarts the errant browser and synchronises browsing sessions during the next hyperlink.
The RAUB could also help manage two other growing problems: the widening compatibility between Netscape's and Microsoft's browsers, and the Sisyphean task of keeping each of their clients equipped with the latest patches and plug-ins.
Far too often, we encounter pages formatted solely for either Communicator or Internet Explorer. In this case, the RAUB controller could bring the most compatible browser forward. Or if we had the ActiveX Shockwave control installed but not the Netscape plug-in, the RAUB controller could bring Explorer to the top when it detected a page with Shockwave content.
Of course, the RAUB would require 64MB of RAM on every system to accommodate having multiple browsers open, but we'd save a fortune on Panadol once we stopped banging our heads against our monitors.
While we are brainstorming, we think some sort of snoop guard for laptops could be a big hit. On her flight back from Internet World, one rat was amazed to watch a coach-load of heavyweight, industry types working side-by-side, row after row -- presumably on sensitive material. She spied a lot of sidelong glances and peeks over head rests as the plane headed back to Silicon Valley.
The guard we're imagining could be a removable visor or an option built into the display that prevents viewing from angles or distances over a few feet. Of course, we might be shooting ourselves in the foot by suggesting this: some of our best tips come from the return legs of trade-show trips.
We don't claim to be taking dictation from the big guy in the corner office, but there was something eerily prescient about our farewell to Test Centre director Charlotte Ziems in our 28 January column. ''We know we'll see her again,'' we wrote. Little did we know how soon. At the eleventh hour (and a day or two after the column went to press), Ziems decided her startup dreams weren't her ticket out.
Well-intentioned site hints at how annoying push isWhile researching this issue's Test Centre analysis on push technology, we ran across many customer testimonials on vendors' Web sites. Gluttons for punishment, we even read them.
We anticipated case studies so compelling that a potential customer would be left burning with product desire and return-on-investment avarice. In one case though, the testimonial struck us as having an entirely opposite effect -- we hope you'll understand our reluctance to name names.
What the heck, it's Wayfarer Communications.
One of Wayfarer's three case studies (www. wayfarer.com/users/studies.htm) laments how ''employees don't read all the memos they receive at their desks''. But ''when you have a message splashed across your computer screen, it's hard to ignore''. This results in an intranet that is ''a much more useful business tool''.
We read on, riveted. Could Wayfarer maintain the momentum? Would it be able to dig an even deeper hole for itself? What flourish could it add that might broaden the chasm between IT and users?
Soon we were rewarded by our two favourite words: human resources. Evidently, Wayfarer can dream of no application more deserving than the processes of HR amplified through the marvels of new technology. We imagine you're as shocked as we are to think there might be a sales rep somewhere, frittering away his or her time answering customer phone calls when there are ''forms to complete''.
As much as we're geeks who love the latest and greatest, we try to temper that with the reality of the bottom line. And nothing raises our blood pressure like an ineffectual use of technology.
We are the world
If you haven't tried Digital's online demo of Systran's language-translation software yet, it's worth a hit. At babelfish.altavista.digital.com you can enter English words and phrases (or link to content at another URL) and translate them into French, Spanish, German, Portuguese or Italian. You can also translate words from one of those five languages into English.
The demo is still in beta testing and does not handle long passages, but it works nicely as a variation of the old ''telephone'' game. Try translating something from English to Portuguese (for instance), then back to English.
When we ran the phrase ''Loose cables'' through this language wringer, the Spanish and German versions translated forth and back correctly. Results in the other three tongues though were a little twisted.
From English to French to English, we got ''cowards cables'' -- in honour of Netwit, we suppose. From English to Italian to English, ''loosened cables'' came out. Don't worry, we won't go there.
Finally, showing that even bots have a mean streak, from English to Portuguese to English, ''Loose cables'' became ''flabby handles''.
All right, all right. So we abandoned our new year's resolutions even before the end of January. No need to push our noses in it.
This week's Loose cables was written by Netwit. Got anything to tell him? The Twit is now accepting mail at firstname.lastname@example.org