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Ahoy There, Me Hearties!, by Alan Williamson

With the fourth quarter upon us, it's good to see Christmas coming around again - more important, things are happening in the wide world. This time last year everyone was panicking over the Y2K problems they'd be experiencing and the havoc that would be created by having the world's computers come crashing down. It's all gone fairly quiet now, don't you think? Not a single report have I read anywhere on post-Y2K problems. Evidently not that newsworthy.

That said, I think there should be a follow-up on those individuals that were interviewed building nuclear-style bunkers and piling up food supplies. I'd love to know just how stupid those people feel now. The religious clowns who thought this was the big checkout must be feeling fairly let down as well. Oh well, always jobs in the dot-com world, eh?

Not if you read the papers. It still makes sorry reading. Maybe I should rename this column "dot.com Obituary"? Oh, here, that reminds me, before I head off into detailing yet another dot-com that's gone pear-shaped, check out these sites:


No matter what happens, somebody always finds the silver lining. Here when the very foundation of our industry is on rocky ground, somebody has got funding for an idea that relies on failures. Some analysts would say madness - I say pure genius. I love this industry; you never know what's around the corner.

What's been hailed as a veteran of European e-tailers, boxman.com, is looking to go into voluntary liquidation. Now they're looking for a buyer, so by the time this column is published they may have gotten a reprieve. Historically, this doesn't look good. They seem to be struggling to raise additional capital to stay in business. I've come up with a theory on why these dot-coms are going to the wall, but more on that later.

Boxman.com sold music CDs as their primary business. A commodity that didn't involve a huge shipping overhead, yet they still aren't making any money after three years of trading. That troubles me. I can understand sites pushing less conventional e-items (hey, I've coined a new phrase...cutting edge this column, I tell you) struggling to break even. It can take a lot of technology cost overhead to make the site informative enough to allow a shopper to make the decision to complete the purchase or not. I read a report saying that any companies making it past Christmas will have ridden out the rough period. Interesting. Not sure if I believe it, though.

Crystal Ball
Let me give you a great way to spot whether a dot-com is doomed to fail. Now before you get too excited, it's not a proven technique, but so far the process is holding up very well. Are you ready? One word: celebrity. If a dot-com has a celebrity listed on its board of shareholders, be forewarned. Remember clickmanago.com? It had Joanna Lumley as an investor (before you ask, she's the one from the British export "Absolutely Fabulous"). Boxman.com, our latest going-down-the-tubes dot-com, has the Swedish rock band Roxette and Madness singer Suggs on its list of investors.

Keep an eye out for the celebrities and where they put their money. Let me know if you know of any other famous investors. An interesting and fun exercise to find out who's got who.

Forget Wireless
Everyone and their dog is jumping on the WAP revolution. "Internet on the move!" they cry. It's nonsense. I have seen the future and it is not on the move, but at home. It's called broadband. We've just had our 2Mb line installed, and let me tell you, it's fantastic! The speed at which Web sites pop up is breathtaking. Napster seriously rocks! Or it did at this writing. But more important is the ability to watch streamed video. Whoa! We've got ourselves set up with a computer that just plays music videos continuously from the Net. The quality is perfect.

We were thinking about this and there are three major experiences of the Internet at the moment. First are the poor users who have to view the Internet via a dialup connection. They have to collect their e-mail as opposed to having it delivered. They have to put up with poor download speeds complete with connections that drop out. A lot of the Internet is shut off to them as they simply don't have the connection speed to view the material.

On the second level are those who are on a permanent connection but still below 256KB speed. They have the benefit of getting e-mails when they're sent. They also get to see all the utilities that require a permanent connection, such as automatic news feeds, ticker tapes, images that update by themselves, and more reliable gameplay. Generally speaking, they're a little more relaxed when viewing the Web. They don't need to worry about the online costs as they're fixed.

The third and most rewarding level has to be what's now categorized as broadband users. These are the ones that are sitting with a T1 connection and above. Surfing becomes a wonderful experience, opening up the world of real-time radio and TV. In addition to this, video conferencing becomes a serious reality and the overall attitude of the Internet becomes one of a tool as opposed to a novelty.

So going back to a medium that at the moment delivers around 9.6Kbps isn't really going to ring my bell. Writing applications for this platform isn't nearly as exciting as getting your teeth into the Java Media API and producing some really cool streamable applications.

Now I'm not writing off wireless computing - that would be more than a little na•ve of me. But as soon as the marketing people start giving the real picture of wireless computing as opposed to the "multimedia experience on the move" speech, the better the world will be. People's expectations have been encouraged to be completely unrealistic, and the fall is so much harder when they discover that the reality of the experience is something along the lines of the ZX Spectrum.

Cisco $$$$ Oracle
It's interesting to watch how the established companies are playing in the buyout game. Many of them are adding to their suite of products by buying the technology and integrating it. Nothing new in that, you say. But how they're paying for it is. There's a term, Cisco-dollars, which refers to stock as the currency in the trade, so, generally speaking, it costs Cisco very little hard cash to make purchases. Oracle, on the other hand, pays in cold, hard cash. I read that Oracle feels their stock is worth far more than money and they want to hold on to it as long as possible. A very brazen and confident move. I like Larry's style.

This week I caught the infamous TV movie from TNT. It's just made it out on video over here in the land of the kilted warriors. The tape I allude to is the story of Apple and Microsoft: Pirates of Silicon Valley. I was intrigued. As you know, I read a lot of books on the history and backgrounds of companies. I've read many different books on the same company so I have a good perspective on the truth, or at least I get to read two sides of a purported truth. So I watched the movie with much background information, expecting it to be nowhere near it.

On the whole, I was impressed. They stayed pretty much to the core story, with artistic license exercised at a minimum. One thing I did find interesting was the portrayal of Steve Jobs. He came across as a right bastard to work for. He must have really sold early Apple employees the bigger dream for them to put up with that amount of abuse. I've read in a number of books that Steve Jobs was a hard man, but I never realized he was quite this harsh. Maybe the movie overdramatized this...I don't know. If any of the early Apple employees are reading this, please get in contact with me. Would love to know what it was really like.

We live in an exciting time, people, and it gives me such a buzz to know that these pioneers are still working among us. We're lucky. Our children will only know these people as old and past it, but we have the opportunity to work with these people and shape the future.

Remember to keep an eye on the Web site for updates: www.n-ary.com/industrywatch/. See you next month.

Author Bio
Alan Williamson is CEO of the first pure Java company in the UK, n-ary (consulting) Ltd (www.n-ary.com), a Java solutions company specializing in delivering real-world applications with real-world Java. Alan has authored two Java servlet books and contributed to the servlet API. He can be reached at: [email protected]


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