Palms? No problem

14 May 1997 View Comments
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I can see it happening. Microsoft's online network now has more than two million subscribers worldwide, up more than half since last October.

The number of users is likely to top 3.3 million.

Of course, Microsoft still trails the likes of America Online and CompuServe, but Bill Gates has much deeper pockets than both these companies, which face an uphill struggle to keep their finances in the black.

So here's my prediction. It will be only a matter of time before MSN eclipses CompuServe and AOL, thanks to the fact that we've already allowed Microsoft PCs to dominate our desktops.

But here's the really scary part. Picture the scene a few years hence.

We're all hooked up to MSN via the company's Web-centric operating system.

Hybrid PC/TVs are the norm, and Gates decides he wants to be a world leader.

A bit of push technology - and hey presto! Suddenly we'll have a 24in headshot of the Seattle wunderkind as a permanent fixture in our front room.

This is Citizen Kane and Brave New World rolled into one. The World State motto, as envisaged by Aldous Huxley, could be adapted by Gates for his own ends. 'Community, Identity, Stability: Microsoft.'

It's good to see there's plenty of entrepreneurial spirit among our own software suppliers. I'm thinking of Lincoln-based Palm Consultancy, whose director David Tolley hopes to export palm trees to Kuwait.

His firm has nothing to do with desert vegetation but designs Internet applications. Tolley did not let this deter him. Having confirmed the email enquiry from the Al-Sedrah Agricultural Company was genuine, he set about fulfilling the order, and 5,000 shrubs should soon be on their way. Given that Arab countries want to deepen their IT expertise, he might even be able to sell them some software.

Sadly, not everyone is that quick off the mark. For research purposes I scanned an old Computer Users' Year Book and put some questions to sundry suppliers.

First was Canterbury's First Temptation. Although listed as a supplier of PCs, I suspected that was a cover. 'Can you supply a few girls for a party?' I asked. Back came the disappointing response. 'Sorry sir, we're not into the kind of business - at least, not yet.'

It was much the same at Sheriff of London, thinly disguised as a supplier of computer air conditioning systems. 'I want to raise a posse,' I explained to a less than helpful staff member. This, he insisted, was no concern of his. Nor was he in the business of filing arrest warrants.

The response was similar at Bond Associates ('Do you have anyone who can shake a dry martini?') and Bonsai ('How tall is your biggest dwarf?').

All they ever wanted to flog was IT kit. No wonder the UK is going down the tubes.

Not so the Americans, although they will doubtless be the first people to lose the use of their legs. They already own 40% of the world's cars and are apt to jump behind the driving wheel even to journey to other side of the road. Like the old Trogg cartoons, they will evolve castors for feet.

Meanwhile, Americans fit their cars out with as many labour-saving gimmicks as possible, including the ubiquitous cup holder. But a US computer salesman was baffled by a customer's complaint that the cup holder on his PC had snapped and that he wanted it fixed.

Was it an extra piece of gadgetry? asked the salesman, explaining he wasn't aware that his company's PCs came fitted with cup holders. 'Yes, siree,' came the reply. 'Before it broke, all I had to do was press a button and the cup holder automatically slid out.'

Cleaning coffee stains from CD-ROM drives could soon be the next big growth industry. Don't let the Yanks beat us to it.

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