We may not be nice, but . . .

We may not be nice, but . . .

Loose Cables is an occasional, 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 products and even longer hours sorting through outrageous vendor claims and press releases. Some of the insights are technical, some are political, and some are just funDuring a research project we spoke with a VIP at Citrix. We were investigating the practicality of using Citrix's WinFrame product to catapult 386-class machines into the era of modern applications, rather than upgrading every last desktop every few years. The Citrix solution sounded intriguing, because it would greatly extend the life span of older machines on non-power-users' desktops.

Not so, Citrix said. Or at least, it doesn't "position" the product that way. Instead, it's positioned as a remote access or glorified remote-control product. But it could be used to supply modern applications to the desktop, we pressed. Amid much hedging, our friend at Citrix finally clued us in to the real issue: Citrix positions WinFrame the way it does because it doesn't want to upset Microsoft and Intel.

We understand its caution, because Citrix depends on Microsoft's support to develop its product; eliminating the drive for constant desktop operating system upgrades would probably not make Redmond happy. Nonetheless, it seems a disservice to the industry not to pursue the possibility.

In the long run, it probably doesn't matter. We tend to agree with a fellow industry type who made the observation that Microsoft is probably just waiting for Citrix to perfect WinFrame before either buying the technology or the company.

We've long said that the world will come to an end the day a common kitchen appliance - say, a toaster - is IP-enabled. Recent reports suggest that day is nearing.

On the move

Alan Shugart, a legend in the storage business and CEO of Seagate Technologies, said that he expects business to be very good in '97. We're happy for him.

What we're not so happy about is his analysis of the most dynamic portion of the market: in a Reuters report, Shugart noted that "products with mobile-computing applications, such as notebook computers, hand-held data-collection devices, and cellular phones, were the fastest growing market, explaining the current 'almost insatiable demand' for high-performance drives."

Notebook computers with high-performance drives are one thing. Data-collection devices make sense, too. But cell phones? With high-performance hard drives? You heard it here first. The IP-enabled toaster can't be far off.

Keep a close watch on what Microsoft is saying in its current end-user licence agreements (EULAs). The Microsoft Office 97 licence agreement stipulates that the separate components "may not be separated for use on more than one computer", effectively making the administrative tool pointless because you'd have to run it locally on the server anyway.

Jobs for the girls

Much has been said about the big Apple-Next-Steve Jobs deal that went down recently. But one fact that didn't escape our critical eyes was Apple chief technology officer Ellen Hancock's prominent presence in recent Apple OS announcements.

Many of you will remember Hancock from her days as a senior vice-president at IBM and her similar role at many OS/2 announcements. Could this be an omen? Is the entire Apple OS project doomed to follow OS/2 - lauded by technologists but shunned by users? That would be a switch from Apple's current OS but probably not quite what it's looking for.

Most of the recent Apple-Be-Next operating system slalom has left us decidedly uninterested. In the words of one newspaper, "what Apple needs now is management, not technology." And we agree.

But one piece of the Next announcement did catch our eyes: "IBM and Motorola, Apple's partners in the PowerPC alliance, are supportive of the Next acquisition, although IBM questioned why Apple was not using IBM's AIX operating system, Hancock said."

Why isn't Apple using IBM's AIX operating system? Hmmm . . . there are lots of options that Apple could pursue that would have at least some chance of rescuing the company. However, using AIX is not one of them.

The thought of a Unix-based Macintosh is strange enough with Next's Unix variant. And at least Next's flavour has been carefully crafted to be as friendly as possible. The thought of a Macintosh running AIX, the very embodiment of arcane, is positively bizarre. We don't expect to see it happen any time soon - if ever.

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