Fry-up: Asia Offline? Microsoft beams up, typos get the better of us

Asia Online - another one bites the dust; Windows XP - ray(gun) of light; On typos and ethics

Asia Online - another one bites the dust

Just when you thought it was safe to trust in a tech company ...

Asia Online NZ wasn't one of your fly-by-night dot-coms either, but a long-serving part of the New Zealand ISP community. ICONZ -- set up in 1993, which makes it roughly the equivalent of Bell Atlantic in internet dog years -- was bought out by Asia Online, which has its head office in Hong Kong and offices around the region.

Interestingly, one of the other suitors at the time was Sky TV and rumour and speculation has it that Sky is keen on buying up the remains of the company by the weekend. Stay tuned to IDGNet and we'll let you know if or when that happens.

Last year proved to be a tricky one for the company and in December it was all but retrenched to Australia, which seems a waste, don't you think? I mean, if you buy a company in New Zealand that serves the New Zealand market and has a New Zealand focus and you've paid someone a lot of New Zealand dollars for it, why would you then decide to treat it as nothing more than a branch office and have it report in to Sydney? Very odd but sadly not uncommon.

The Australian arm of the company has also been sold off, according to the liquidator, although the new owner hasn't yet been named.

ISPs are really caught between a rock and a hard place at the moment. For the most part their offerings have been commoditised and there's very little difference between paying $30 to Xtra or Clear or Ihug and paying $30 to Joe's ISP. You get bandwidth and if you need it you get a helpdesk. I had cause to contact the JetStream helpdesk last week, and although I had a hard time finding the phone number to begin with, they were great once I got in touch with a real person. Support and all the other services are what differentiates one ISP from another and that has to be the focus these days. But service costs money and when you're already cutting your margins close to the bone, well, something's got to give, hasn't it?

Will Asia Online be the only major ISP to go under? Others are looking shaky - rumour and speculation has abounded about Ihug's position recently, but then that's nothing new. Staff numbers have fluctuated and deals have been made and then abandoned and still Ihug ticks along, which is great news for the end users. The more the merrier, right?

And kudos must go to Bruce Simpson at Aardvark for breaking the Asia Online story a goodly number of hours before any of the rest of us. Mutter mutter ratbag mutter.

Aussie arm of Asia Online sells, NZ to follow - IDGNet

Asia Online pulls plug on NZ - NZHerald

Aardvark - Have a look at the previous edition as well

Windows XP - ray(gun) of light

It's here to save the world from the Blue Screen of Death (B-SOD to those in the know) and may just have done that but you have to sell your soul to get it to work. Windows XP launched yesterday (or today depending on where in the world you stand) and along with its built-in firewall, multitude of multimedia devices and Windows 2000-esque stability it also allows you, the user, to send a snapshot of your PC's profile to Microsoft for safekeeping. That way, if you try to flog off your operating system to a friend, they can tell if it's being reinstalled on the same machine or not.

Oh, and of course they have a great profile of everyone's hardware. Everyone everywhere. But they won't be using that for marketing at all. No sirree bob.

Microsoft's next move, .Net, will see even more of this going on. The software giant has seen the writing on the wall and is moving, along with ever other IT company, it seems, to become a "services" company. Quite what that really means is beyond me, but it seems to involve more money changing hands on a regular basis.

Unfortunately, Microsoft's .Net plan has Passport at its heart and this is where all sane folk should throw their hands up in horror.

Passport is Microsoft's way of getting you to put all your information in one handy place -- a single log-on for all Microsoft services. Great, you say, I hate typing in all my information over and over again. I agree with you. My PC knows who I am, I've logged on, why on earth does a site that I've been to before need to have all the same information loaded on to it again and again?

But think about it for a moment -- Microsoft will have all your demographic information. All of it. Every time you log on to your own software Microsoft will know. Every time you use someone else's software or surf the net or buy something, Big Bill will be told. Microsoft, it must be remembered, isn't so much a software company as a marketing company, and that information isn't going to be governed by New Zealand's privacy-friendly laws, it will be held in the US where it's perfectly acceptable to take someone's details for one purpose (like taking your phone number or email address for helpdesk enquiries) and then sell it to someone else for whatever they want.

I'm sure Microsoft will deny this, or rather explain their point of view on it all, but frankly I don't want my demography stored in such a manner. (By the way, Sun et al are involved with another project along the same lines, Liberty.) Microsoft hardly has the best track record when it comes to security of any type but worse than that, they seem to view such information as theirs to do with as they like.

This will be a slippery slope - today registering your software, tomorrow having to use Passport to log on to certain software packages, like Microsoft Money or Instant Messaging, the day after having to log on to Passport just to use your PC. The time to stop it is now. Just say no.

Microsoft rejects Austrian 'Big Brother' nomination - IDGNet

Activation, anyone? - IDGNet

Commission plans no action over Passport - IDGNet

A passport to no online privacy? - IDGNet

On typos and ethics

Don't you hate it when you try to talk about professionalism and you end up spelling the word "about" wrong in the subject line? Man, that scuks.

Still, my rant about journalism seems to have hit home in places. Hopefully the folk it was aimed at (can you say "marketing"?) got it and are currently discussing it with the advertisers. Feel free to mention my name. Hell, tell them to call me if you like -- I'll explain the whole thing.

The balance between advertising and editorial has always been a tricky one to maintain -- "advertising features" and the like blur the lines and make us editorial types shift uncomfortably in our seats, but frankly you can't have a newspaper without advertising, as many online publications are discovering. It just doesn't pay.

Newspapers aren't produced in a vacuum, either. I'm typing this on a Dell PC. I use a Nokia phone. I drive a Mitsubishi (and by the way, if you're the rat fink who stole my Blaupunkt CD player out of said Mitsubishi, there's a special hell reserved for the likes of you and whoever decided taking all the staff out of an inner-city carpark was a good idea).

As an IT reporter we get offered all kinds of things that any other business reporter would, I'm reliably told, be shocked and appalled at. Vendors take us on trips to show off their latest technology, they give us hardware and software on "long term loans" and so on. I myself am the childishly happy recipient of a Palm Vx, but whenever I write about it I feel the heat rising in my face a little.

Actually, it usually backfires -- I'm less likely to write about a product I've been given because I feel somewhat embarrassed about having it, which probably isn't the end result the vendor was looking for.

Trips are a tricky one as well. We get taken all over the world. Vendors pay because quite frankly publishers can't afford to.

But that doesn't mean the vendor has bought the copy we produce. Far from it -- I remember one particular trip a colleague came back from with a front page story that slammed the vendor who took her. If it's news, it's news. Sorry about that but that's just the way it is.

The vendor doesn't buy our copy with trips, they buy our time. Time spent learning about one particular technology or one particular product. Time spent hearing one company's point of view on a topic. Some trips don't produce news stories, much to the editor's chagrin, but they're invaluable in IT because frankly, keeping up with the many and varied types of technology available today is almost impossible.

I guess what I'm saying is there's no such thing as an objective journalist, try as we might. But we do try, which is important. Having advertisers who recognise that is important.

Next week: PR trolls who ring asking if you've received a press release and how best to serve their carcasses at your next barbecue.

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