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NOTES FROM THE FIELD: Fingers in every pie

NOTES FROM THE FIELD: Fingers in every pie

As Thanksgiving passed into a pleasant memory and an extra five pounds, I went online to start my holiday shopping. Much to my frustration, several sites were having problems. Amazon.com was down for half an hour. A company representative said its downtime had nothing to do with high site traffic the day after Thanksgiving. Bestbuy.com's site also was down for some maintenance. Funny how maintenance is scheduled for what some say is the busiest shopping day of the year.

After about half an hour of waiting for pages to load and not having much success at all, I gave up.

It seems online retailers weren't the only ones suffering from impaired performance in the days after Thanksgiving. One reader wrote that he has run into problems with PayPal, the online escrow service designed to simplify payments for auction participants at sites such as eBay. This user was getting slow server response. When he called to complain, there was no answer at the tech-support phone. Anyone else out there having issues with PayPal lately? How about online retailers? Holiday travel is also high on the priority list this time of year. I booked my tickets back to Ohio on Expedia this year, the Microsoft-spawned online travel service. In the midst of booking my tickets the price went up by $US200.

Another frequent flier says he searched for tickets at United Airlines' Web site and found an American Airlines fare for $200. The same ticket was priced on the American Airlines site at $800. When he called American they wouldn't honour the $200 fare United was reporting, so he ended up buying his American Airlines ticket for $200 at the United site.

Microsoft is in the travel business with Expedia and in the ISP business with Microsoft Network, so it's not really a surprise that it wants to be in lots of other businesses too. But you'd think with its recent antitrust problems it might be a little more cautious about moving in those directions.

Not so, says one reader who attended the Association of PC User Groups conference, held in conjunction with Comdex. Microsoft wants to be at the centre of all consumer data and transactions.

A Microsoft representative served as the keynote speaker at the conference and offered details on the company's .Net philosophy, including its plan to be the secure and trusted hub for all consumer financial transactions.

Microsoft also plans to offer people access to its data and applications anytime and anywhere for a small fee, the speaker said. For example, Microsoft would charge 10 cents or 15 cents every time a user accessed any online application such as Microsoft Word or Excel.

"Why don't you just go to the mall, Bobby?" Randi said. "It's got to be easier than trying to get those Web sites to load."

Visions of checkout lines and jammed parking lots danced before my eyes. I rebooted my computer.

Robert X. Cringely is a regular contributor to ARN's sister publication Infoworld


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