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AT LARGE: Layman's terms

AT LARGE: Layman's terms

Needing a quick intro bit to fill this space, ARN's Matthew JC. Powell types the first thing that pops into his mind . . .

Since I'm in the technology business, many people I meet, even close friends, feel the need to talk with me about technology, even if it doesn't actually rate among their own interests or fields of knowledge. Many of you, no doubt, have the same experience: well-meaning friends and rellies, wanting to strike up a conversation, but realising they have virtually nothing in common with you to talk about. It can be awkward.

I'm grateful to the mainstream press for its periodical beat-ups of technology-related stories that populate the public consciousness with misinformation, thus fuelling these often fascinating discussions. Half-truths and sensationalism may not keep the public informed, but it's sure entertaining.

Naturally Microsoft usually features, since that company is the computer industry's Leviathan (I'll write a column on that some day) and its CEO is a superstar. The deference afforded to MS's beloved co-founder on his recent jaunt to our sunburnt shores, and its accompanying media coverage, are the evidence upon which I rest my case. I don't recall reading the stories about other visiting CEOs being invited to address the Federal Cabinet, or even the footlocker. Maybe I just don't read enough.

Anyway, the topic for conversation about Microsoft usually ranges to the "trial" of Bill Gates, although people seem unsure about what it is he's meant to have done. Something to do with the Internet? Maybe he tried to buy it or something? Is that illegal? (Trust me, I've had these conversations.)If we don't talk about Gates' impending imprisonment, we discuss how Windows is an exact copy of the Mac OS now and there's no difference. This topic often heads into the details of Microsoft's acquisition of Apple last year, with a segue to how the purchase just might have saved Apple from oblivion after all. (The Apple doomsday story was good fodder for computer publications too, so I really can't entirely blame the generalist press for that one).

You and I, of course, know that all of these topics are based in limited understanding of the facts, but there's a grain of truth in there somewhere. As part of the dedicated and talented ARN team, I endeavour to understand these issues properly and to report them to you accurately, while you in turn (as resellers, distributors et cetera) try to obtain a balanced and truthful understanding of the industry in which you work. Hopefully you draw on my reportage to help, so we end up with some degree of common understanding.

Lots of people I know don't have any use for high-tech, and they're not in the industry, so it's not important for them to know about these issues. They wouldn't read Australian Reseller News if you paid them to. They occasionally pick up the stories that daily newspapers decide are crucial enough to put on the front page, and assimilate the key facts contained in the first few paragraphs.

This makes for some interesting chats.

Recently, a friend of mine opened up a conversation with: "That millennium bug is sure causing some problems, isn't it?"

I replied: "Well, it's not really a 'bug' as such. 'Bug' usually means faulty or badly written code. The problem here is really a lack of foresight at the design stage in some software systems, which might have been decades ago. So it's not so much a 'bug' as a design consideration."

Friend: "Oh. Well, isn't it interesting that the technology that's vulnerable to problems at the turn of the millennium has been developed just in time to suffer?"

Me: "Actually, since the problem is just with how systems handle the first two digits of the year, the same problem would have arisen a century ago if the technology had progressed further. So most people these days have taken to calling it the 'Year 2000 Problem', or sometimes 'Y2K' for short."

Friend: "Oh, 2KY! As long as I can remember, that's been the worst radio station in Sydney."

Uh, yeah.

Incidentally, a bit of software landed on my desk the other day, pleading to be reviewed. Four logos on the box proclaim that it is "Year 2000-Compliant!", without actually explaining anywhere what the implications of that term are for this particular software. You see, it's Casady & Greene's "Grammarian", a proofreading utility.


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