Loose cables: Industry events leave us dizzy

Loose cables: Industry events leave us dizzy

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 funThink fast: what software company is right on Microsoft's tail in terms of scope and size? No, it's not Oracle, Novell or even IBM. It's Computer Associates. After a series of high-profile acqui-sitions, CA has emerged a powerhouse in the enterprise software arena.

The company's immense size and international presence was clearly demonstrated at its CA World trade show in the US at the end of April. Smartly planning to coincide with the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, CA's marketing team pulled out all the stops for this one. As soon as one Test Centre rat stepped off the plane, she was greeted by two young staffers holding CA World signs and offering advice about shuttle services to local hotels.

Speaking of signs, no icon was more representative of CA's all-encompassing presence than its power pyramid posters plastered throughout the convention, made up of blocks representing all products that now make up its fold. Yet despite the swinging soiree that successfully reined in users, partners, and press from around the world (our rat stuck out like a sore thumb in the multicultural press centre), the event may have done more to boost the local street scene than CA loyalty: while the massive convention centre was sparsely populated most of the day, geeks with bright yellow trade-show badges slung around their necks crowded the French Quarter by early afternoon, smiling from ear to ear after a cocktail or two. Although, from the looks of things, the jovial attendees were sure to be singing CA's praises back at their doldrum offices.

The party crasher

Are you worried that your company won't be partying into the year 2000? Or that the rest of the world won't make it either? Then have we found the newsletter for you: Self-Reliant Living, at

We found Self-Reliant Living in a search of year 2000 Web sites relevant to a recent Test Centre Analysis. Sure enough, the opening page offered some year 2000 doom-and-gloom screens.

If you've stuck with us recently, you'd know we've found a bit of year 2000 religion: we're starting to believe there could be some not-so-insignificant disruptions to the infrastructure due to the dastardly date-field design decision.

But Self-Reliant Living doesn't limit itself to year 2000 issues. Instead, it offers one of the strangest editorial mixes we've ever seen. We found lots of advice for dealing with a post-apocalyptic world (and other things that can ruin your Monday). There's a section called "Personal Protection" that includes a handful of articles about - you guessed it - guns. Strangely, we also found a review of Hewlett-Packard's LaserJet 5L printer - probably so you can still print your tax forms after all hell breaks loose. The tagline sums it up: "Answers for when the system fails you". What? Our Test Centre Rx column isn't enough?

Conrad would be proud

Some Test Centre rats were let out of their cages last month to attend NetWorld+Interop 98 in sin city - Las Vegas. Upon arriving at the Las Vegas Hilton, they were immediately struck by networking technology's pervasiveness and how far it has come in the past few years - touching all areas of the economy.

Case in point: the extra roll of toilet paper in the newly remodelled bathrooms so kindly proffered by the proprietors cheerfully proclaimed to be multilayered. Which left them wondering: is that multilayer over IP or what?

Apple's platform has life

The buzz surrounding the first Jobs-blueprinted machine of his second go-round is a happy change of pace compared to the doom-and-gloom reporting typically associated with Apple.

Sometimes it seems as if there hasn't been any enthusiasm for the Macintosh since Clinton strapped on a saxophone for Arsenio.

We have yet to lay our hands on one, but the specs and jumping GIFs on Apple's Web site are intriguing. At a price of $US1299, the iMac will include a third-generation 233MHz, 32MB/4GB, two Universal Serial Bus ports, a 4Mbps IrDA port, a 15in monitor, a 33Kbps modem, and some other audio/video goodies.

Of course, more than half the fun of the iMac is its beyond-the-pale design. Reviewing model launches during the Mac's first six or seven years required the rigour of an engineer, the insight of a usability analyst, and the thesaurus of an art critic. High-tech media outlets have obliged during the past two weeks, and we're pleased to keep the ball rolling.

With translucent casing the colour of a pack of menthols (or Aim toothpaste), the back of the roundish iMac looks like something you might mistakenly grab to notch a tough spare in the 10th frame. Various writers have compared the iMac to a beach toy or a gumdrop. The mouse and side panels glow blue-green when the iMac is powered up - a comforting night-light if you keep the machine on around the clock for serving, maintenance or Net access.

What are current Mac users supposed to do with their existing displays? Load them up with Office toolbars and graphics-package palettes? On second thought, that's not a bad idea.

What impresses us has less to do with the machine itself than its introduction. Apple managed to keep a lid on the iMac's design until its debut, despite a flurry of rumours, counter-rumours, and prototype photos supposedly smuggled out of Cupertino (misdirection perhaps?).

Beyond the iMac, Apple's stock price is healthier, and its market share edged up recently. However, the most positive sign may be the discovery of a new Mac-specific virus, a worm dubbed Autostart-9805 that uses an opening in QuickTime to overwrite data. (More details are at're serious about this. If nobody cares enough about a platform to hack it, things are grim indeed. We have long since stopped running anti-virus software (nearly all utilities, in fact) on our home Macs. They are solid, worry-free boxes we use mostly for browsing and e-mail. Sort of like network computers, if you follow the thought. We couldn't escape the irony.

We were using the most personal of computers pretty much as a Net terminal.

To date, the Autostart-9805 worm has turned up mostly in the Hong Kong desktop publishing community. That's hardly the Fortune 500, but we still look at it as a sign of life for a platform many have buried.

This week's Loose Cables was written by Chip Brookshaw. Have you broken 200? Let us know at

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