Remember when the whole point of Networld+InterOp was to demonstrate interoperability? We do. So it's amusing to hear that the networking fest in Las Vegas earlier this month turned out to be a misnomer, as lots of Gigabit Ethernet vendors tried to get their various products to actually work together on the InterOp show floor.
Of course, everyone realises that the technology won't really take off until customers are sure that the network interface cards they buy will work with the hubs they buy. Still, there's no denying interest is high. It took us more than two months to wrest a GigaStar 3000 from GigaLabs for a product review we did. Fortunately, the delay turned out to be worth it, because the switch is a real screamer. Who knows, maybe Ethernet isn't such a dead technology after all.
Size isn't everything
It seems as if major monitor manufacturers are just as susceptible as the rest of us in exaggerating certain proportions.
An ongoing US legal action filed by consumers who are upset at the discrepancy between advertised and actual monitor sizes is due to wrap up in June.
The plaintiffs in the class-action suit claim that monitor screens average at least 15 per cent - in some cases as much as 30 per cent - smaller than advertised.
Defendants argue that the screens are correctly measured; it's just that the plastic bezel on your monitor partly obscures them.
We'll have to remember that one: "No really, it's huge - my plastic bezel is just obscuring it."
We were intrigued by some of the talk on the Internet about Intel's Klamath processor. It seems that a certain group of malcontents is claiming that the new packaging style is actually a reflection of Intel's growing concern about AMD, Cyrix, and other competition. The Klamath's new packaging, these folks say, is solely an effort to lock out competitors.
By going to a proprietary, patented CPU bus and getting major manufacturers to go along with it, Intel ensures that its days of processor dominance will be long and profitable. Of course, it does sound rather similar to the ill-fated Micro Channel bus, doesn't it?
We're wondering if this'll be another case of a proprietary, anti-competitive move backfiring and doing more harm to the perpetrator than to the competitors.
Tim Shaw syndrome
By now, you may be cognisant of how enamoured we are with Cisco's 1600 series. Now it looks like a classic case of "but wait, there's more!" Not only is the 1604 the coolest small-office/home-office router we've seen, its tight resemblance to the middle-of-the-line 3600 series could really help IS types configure routers for home users.
Because they use the same processor and run the same build as an internetworking OS, you can actually set up an image of your "stock" 1604 configuration on one of the 3600s two memory partitions. From there, you can burn as many PC Card images of the configuration as you want and just plug them into the 1600s.
No more messing with every single router as it goes out the door, and no more trying to remember how each one was configured at some point down the road - just check out the memory image.
If it's half as cool as it looks, you'll want to buy several of the 3600s, even if you're not in the market for routers.
Tech convergence is bound to derail here Microsoft snapped up WebTV recently. If only we had a dollar for every story that had the word "convergence" in it. Microsoft's latest round of nut-gathering isn't that big a deal. It dropped some pocket change for good technology that it will gut and rework into another Windows user interface. The "WebTV" moniker might just be the most valuable part of the acquisition, though. Even at $US425 million, the buy could turn out to be inexpensive branding. Quick: what's a five-letter word for convergence?
On the dunny door
On the men's room chalkboard at Twenty Tank Brewery in San Francisco, during a recent Microsoft party at the JavaOne Developer's Conference, was "Mac - don't give up on us!" By the end of the night someone had crossed out "don't". But Bill Gates might just see the bigger handwriting on the wall. The giveaways for the evening were sunglasses and sunscreen. Overall, it was a great party, if you like hanging out with programmers whose language (according to the Java licensing agreement) can't even do something simple like control a nuclear power plant - jeez!
Name that domain
It looks like there'll finally be more top-level domains (TLDs) for the Internet late this year. Perhaps InterNIC's monopoly will be broken up at the same time. Still, we have to wonder whether the explosion in TLDs is in anyone's best interest except those providing them.
These days, companies routinely register in all of the .net, .org, and .com TLDs to avoid confusion and keep competitors (or satirists) from grabbing similar names. For example, a company named Orange would buy up orange.net, orange.org, and orange.com.
Under the new system, there could easily be 50 TLDs by this time next year. Sure, big companies won't flinch at buying 50 domain names rather than three, but does that make it right? Confusion will probably increase, as you'll have to remember to find Foo Consulting at foo.com, Foo Car Repair at foo.biz, Foo Matchmaking at foo.web, and Foo Motors at foo.firm. That is, unless the giant Foo Industries buys up all those names and puts everyone back in the same boat we're in now - except the TLD providers will be much richer.
Chasing your tail
While in the Test Centre testing Web filtering solutions, we called one vendor's technical support line about its search agent's features and documentation; the technician admitted that the online help wasn't very useful. In fact, he said, "If you don't know exactly what you're looking for, you can't find it on the online help."
That left us wondering if the company has this much of a problem indexing its online help, how reliable is its search product at locating hard-to-find information?
We've all experienced the frustration of installing a peripheral with its accompanying driver in a server, only to have it crash the server and cause lots of grief. In perhaps the worst case yet, we were especially irked to install a video-capture board in a dual-processor Windows NT server, only to have it blue-screen the server on boot-up. The "last known good" configuration was no help. Fortunately, we're always prepared, and had wisely made a recovery disk before installing the driver. Of course, that did no good either. NT re-install time - we can only imagine how frustrated (not to say homicidal) we would have been if this had happened in a production environment. NT desperately needs a "get that driver out of here!" option during the recovery phase.
Active Server Pages (ASPs) is a great tech- nology. The allure of embedding interpreted code in an HTML document is just too great to resist. Microsoft hypes (with good reason) its power to create sophisticated applications that use everything from Perl to database connectivity.
What it isn't so quick to talk about is the cost in processing power.
Instead of just serving up HTML document after HTML document, servers are now being asked to parse each page, find the scripts, execute the scripts, and paste the results back into the page. The parsing alone is expensive: try simply changing file extensions to .ASP from .HTML, with no other changes, on an ASP-enabled server. Bam! CPU utilisation goes through the roof.
The results? Many "HTTP server too busy" messages. It looks a lot like what you've seen on Microsoft's site recently. But hey - those are powerful, sophisticated, connected pages you can't get to.
The latest wisdom from industry analysts is that shakeouts are likely in several arenas, with push technology and high-speed modems as the most obvious candidates. Sometimes we wish we could hurry shakeouts in other areas; while doing research for an analysis on the 2000 problem, for example, we found that everyone had revamped their software or consulting service in order to tout it as a "complete year-2000 solution". Though many of these services are valuable, a good chunk of them are rickety lean-to's thrown together to catch the doomsday storm.
Some NetMeeters seeking virtual streetlife Want to meet somebody on the Internet? Microsoft provides six Internet Locator (IL) servers that NetMeeting users can log in to and then set up ad hoc at multipoint conferences. It's a good way to get Microsoft's NetMeeting 2.0 beta version in use across the Net, but the company has become a seemingly unwitting middleman for the oldest profession known to man - and we don't mean accounting.
Of the hundreds of users logged in to the IL servers, at least three-quarters are looking to set up decidedly lower-chakra "meetings". A plea for "pixies wanted" and a generous offer of "full sponge baths" are two of the few printable propositions. Most of the others aren't quite so . . . romantic.
Microsoft has been trying on the mantle of content provider for almost a year, but with on-again, off-again plans to charge for its magazine Slate and that magazine's nervous ribbing of chairman Gates, the company's runway walk is about as smooth as a teenage boy in his prom tux. Given the goings-on across the IL servers, perhaps a Hefner-esque bathrobe would be a better fit.
Enhanced Net access
You thought the Avon Lady was bad - wait till your sister-in-law tries to sell you Internet access. In the US, FutureNet OnLine is now offering to let you in on a "network marketing and multilevel compensation plan" to sell WebTVs. And it looks about as stable as a pyramid scheme. We're always a little sceptical when a company's charter stresses its intent to build an "ethical, honest, and legal business", summing up its philosophy with the cultish-sounding imperative to "follow the concept, seize the moment, and master the skills".
It took us a while to wend our way through FutureNet's hedge-maze of a Web site (www.futurenet-online.com), but after pages of misdirection, we began to get a handle on this shell game. For about $US700, you too can be an Internet consultant and earn the right to purchase WebTVs for 25 per cent off retail price and sell them to friends and family. Better yet, recruit others to be Internet consultants (you'll get a commission) and earn "a lot of money, fast"!
FutureNet isn't a part of WebTV Networks or Philips Consumer Electronics; it just resells Philips' set-top boxes and collects Internet consultant fees. This must have been unclear to unwitting customers, because FutureNet awkwardly admits on its Important Corporate Memo page, "several cases have been brought to our attention of inaccurate or overly embellished information being communicated by FutureNet consultants". Say it ain't so!
We'd like an Important Corporate Memo about the other products FutureNet is peddling. There's a page of costume jewellery and health and beauty supplies, including the FutureCare Performance & Libido Enhancer. No word yet on our application to be Libido consultants, but that's OK. Upon reflection, we decided that FutureNet should focus its empire-building in the high-tech arena. There's a surfer born every minute.
Between recent announcements made by software giants Microsoft and Cisco promising integration, the flurry of shakeout predictions for push vendors, and lowered stock expectations for Netscape, it seems true now more than ever that "convergence" will apply not only to the media but to technology companies as well.
We're reminded of our days at uni, when our rooms were infested with cockroaches. Corey, one of our more disturbed friends, started trapping the cockroaches by greasing the inside of a coffee can and putting meat at the bottom; the cockroaches piled in but couldn't get out, and soon the can was full. He would periodically check on the cockroaches.
Each time there were fewer of them, the remaining ones looked much bigger. In the end, there was just one giant cockroach, 6 inches long, trying to get out of the can.
"What happened then?" we asked.
"I took it outside and set it on fire," Corey said.