AT LARGE: Wait watchers

AT LARGE: Wait watchers

Been a funny sort of year, hasn't it? At the beginning, the destruction of one of the new economy's foundation stones, Microsoft, seemed imminent. We're still waiting. AOL, the online startup with the vastly overblown stock market value was about to buy media mainstay Time Warner. We're still waiting.

Maybe it's just that the industry thought we'd all be wiped out by Y2K so, they didn't feel like they had to do anything. "What's the point of getting the Pentium IV to market," they said, "we'll all be dead by then."

Absurdly, we're still waiting on a result from the US presidential elections. I said some weeks ago that you would probably know the result by the time my column was in print - how naive I was. With the US Supreme Court having just decided, as I write this, that the best way to determine a fair result is to make sure not all the votes get counted, I'm tempted to say that you'll know the result by the time you read this. I shall resist the temptation.

A couple of side points: Bush argued to the court that, if the hand recounts showed Gore got more votes than him, it would do "irreparable harm" to his presidency, and the court agreed that this was grounds to stop the counting. If Gore got more votes than him, he wouldn't be president. Isn't that how it works?

Another side point: the Canadians (bless 'em) managed to count some 13 million votes, by hand, in about four hours, with a clear result known by bedtime. Florida's machine vote system has taken four weeks so far and still hasn't worked it out. Clearly, Florida should replace its IBM Votomatic machines with Canadians next time there is an election.

We've spent an awful lot of time waiting lately. We waited for the Y2K disaster that never came (although 2KY was fairly lame throughout the year, so maybe all that fuss was over a misprint). We waited for the GST crunch that didn't seem to arrive at first, but has slowly made its presence felt. We waited for the Olympic bonanza (or the Olympic disaster, depending on what side of the fence you were on). It did arrive, or it didn't arrive. Again, depending.

We waited for the dollar to head below 50 cents American. For some bizarre reason which I will never understand, it didn't. Instead it rallied, and is now back on its way to 60 cents. Remember when 60 cents was the "psychological barrier" that we didn't want the dollar to cross? Of course, I note that the rally, of late, happened just after the last of my orders had been processed at the old exchange rate. My luck.

Speaking of which, we didn't have to wait any longer for the dot-com bubble to burst. That finally happened, with an unforseen ferocity. What we didn't realise before the burst, though, was that many of these companies had business plans that made Amazon look conservative. One giant leap for entrepreneurs - backwards.

The Steve Jobs bubble sort of burst at Apple as well, with poor financials leading to a traumatic drop in the stock price - back to where it was just before Steve got there, actually. He says it will all be better when Mac OS X is released. We're still waiting.

The wait also finally ended for Sony's whiz-bang PlayStation 2, a supercomputer-powered games machine, DVD player and Internet appliance for only $750. Except that it doesn't come with any games in the box, and they're a hundred bucks each. And almost all of them require an extra memory card, for an extra $70, and you'll want an extra controller, and an adaptor to plug it into your old TV. It doesn't do the Internet thing yet, and it only plays Region 4 DVDs (argh!) . . .

We're still waiting, of course, for X-Box, Microsoft's entry into the fray. In one of the more brilliant vapourware debates of the year, "reviewers" compared the merits of the PlayStation 2 and the X-Box on the basis of company promises, without having seen either product. In the aftermath of the PlayStation 2 launch, I've already read articles claiming that X-Box will be similarly disappointing. I shake my head.

This is supposed to be a round-up of all the year's happenings, but I have to say there doesn't seem to have been much. Maybe I just had a dull year. Maybe I'm just a crusty cynic. I hope your year was better. Maybe next year will be more interesting. We'll wait and see.

Matthew JC. Powell is sunning himself poolside as you read this. Send him a greeting on mjcpowell@ozemail., and maybe he'll read it some time

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