At Large: The truth is out where?

At Large: The truth is out where?

Standard-issue FBI playbook in hand, Matthew JC. Powell prepares to deceive, inveigle and obfuscate . . .

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a midnight screening of The X-Files Movie. My purpose in doing so was clear: I wanted to be among the first to see it.

OK, I was among the first to see it apart from the millions of Americans and Europeans who'd been trooping to cinemas for the two weeks prior to its local opening. And I'll admit that critics and film industry "insiders" saw it before I did out here. And also a bunch of journos that Toshiba liked well enough to invite to a special screening. Don't worry guys, I wasn't offended. Sniff.

But apart from those few hundred people, I was among the first to see the brand new cult sensation blah blah blah. For me, that was enough of a reason to stay up until midnight. I felt it was an important event and worth seeing before other people did.

But not too many people shared my opinion. The cinema was by no means empty, but compared to other midnight screenings I've attended - for Star Trek movies and the Star Wars reissues, for instance - it was not particularly crowded. The X-Files audience can usually be counted on to be a bit peculiar and nocturnal (Mulder never seems to sleep at night), but on this occasion they seemed otherwise disposed. Probably caught up freeze-framing their videos of the Zapruder film and what not.

It put me in mind of the recent midnight launch for Windows 98. I don't mean the press launch, with its widely reported traffic disruptions in convertible sportscars. I mean the first opportunity for hoi polloi to get their hands on the thing. (Incidentally, Toshiba is about to launch its new series of machines at something called the Volvo Gallery - a reaction to the lack of safety features on an MG, perhaps?)Plain crazy?

But I digress. I've never quite understood the rationale behind queuing up in the middle of the night in winter to buy an operating system. Even when it's something like Windows 95 - hyped to the rafters and chock-full of new goodies - I can't understand why users would want to do that to themselves. Let's face it, for all it's glitz Windows 95 is an operating system. And operating systems - dramatic pause - are boring.

I know what you're saying: "rubber baby buggy bumpers". Oh, that's not it? In that case, I don't know what you're saying. Forget I mentioned it.

If I were to hazard a guess, though, I'd reckon you were making some comment on how operating systems are the underpinning of everything we do, or words to that effect. And you may also be thinking that, as a technology buff, I ought to be rather more keen on the things than most people.

True enough. I do like to tinker, and I do like to fiddle around with a new operating system and find all the cool improvements over the previous version.

No big thrill

But really, I can wait until daylight to do it. I tried to imagine these boffins the next day, boasting to their friends: "I stayed up all night installing Windows 95, so I've used it before you." I imagine their friends shaking their heads in sad wonderment, devoid of either envy or sympathy.

Because operating systems are not particularly cool, and new ones are not to be played with when you're below your peak of alertness. They are dangerous. Staying up all night mastering the latest hot game almost makes sense to me. Almost. But a new OS, with its bugs, its quirks and foibles? I'd rather sleep, and install it when the tech support guys are up.

So I wasn't surprised when the Windows 98 launch didn't attract the same frenzied crowds, baying to be the first to play Solitaire 98. Sequels rarely if ever attract the same kind of crowds as the original. You could have walked into the midnight opening of Jurassic Park: The Lost World firing automatic weapons and you'd have only hit me and a couple of other guys. Maybe an usher.

What I'm saying here is that I can understand the need to innovate in the way you promote new products. I've said before that innovation is vital in all aspects of this business, and I stand by that. midnight openings/launches have worked well for the film industry, and it was certainly worth a go for software. If any company should try it, it was always Microsoft.

But you won't catch me lining up until midnight, even for the coolest techno-thingy going. And I believe that the audience for these moonlit events will continue to dwindle, no matter what Microsoft claims.

That's the truth as I see it. Believe whatever you choose.

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