Web Informant #216, 29 September 2000:


This is a nostalgic time of year for me. In September 1990, I helped bring a new publication into this world, Network Computing. The first issue was filled with a definite attitude that I am surprised (pleasantly, of course) to say is still present in the current pages of the magazine. Gratifying as well is that I hired or recruited many of the people currently involved with the publication.

My first column was on the difficulty of supporting network adapters in PCs, especially those with jumpers to set various configuration parameters. Well, we no longer have to worry as much about jumpers, just which version of Windows will be supported by the particular network adapter we use. I guess that is an improvement, although the level of user frustration is about the same it seems. And back then we had articles about FDDI, SNMP, and Microchannel PCs, all things that we don't care as much about anymore.

Those were the simple days. We had DOS on PCs and DOS on the mainframe. Our biggest challenge, toiling in the fields of corporate IT-land, was to decide between IBM and Compaq PCs. We didn't have the Internet in corporate America. The web was still not even invented by Al Gore, let alone Tim Berners-Lee. Local area networks were a big deal.

One of the bigger deals for us when we started Network Computing was to give everyone who worked there an email address, using Network Courier (the DOS-based precursor to Microsoft Outlook). We didn't have the ability to get on the Internet on our own so we piggybacked on UCLA's system and also ran a gateway on MCIMail (which also had an experimental Internet gateway about that time). It was a novel idea then, and despite the rather tortured way to address messages, we got plenty from readers and vendors. It all seems rather quaint nowadays, with email addresses and "@" signs everywhere. In fact, I think at last count I have over twenty different email accounts.

I remember a meeting with IBM we had where we tried to get them to give us one of their mainframes for our labs. It was rather cheeky of us, I'll admit. And I am sure no publication had ever asked for one before. To be fair, we were willing to pick up the annual maintenance charges, which could be serious cash. Of course, we never got one, but we did get the next best thing -- access to existing mainframes at several universities that we used as remote test labs. It was a great idea ten years ago, and still is being used by the publication today with I think great success.

I was also pleased when Fritz Nelson, the current publisher of Network Computing, had asked me along with the core staff to write columns for its anniversary issue, something you can read here.

September holds another anniversary: five years ago I began to write these series of essays. Hold on, can it really be five years of Web Informants? It is hard to believe. Back then I had some vague notion that I wanted to communicate changes to my web site, along with create my own series of awards about others' web sites. Well, soon everyone got into doing his or her own awards and I found that writing commentary was more interesting anyway. My first Web Informant column was on dealing with Brodeur, IBM's public relations agency then (and now), and how difficult it was to extract some basic information for a review I was writing. Some things never change.

Five years ago I already had my own domain name strom.com for several years, which seemed like a novelty at the time. The web was just getting going, and we had to worry about different browser versions and whether people running Lynx, a character-mode browser, would be able to view our pages. Cybersquatting, ad banner tracking, and cookie stuffing were all still relatively unknown. It was a time of innocence. It was a time of confidence.

Five years ago IBM was still trying to make a go out of OS/2, but Microsoft released Windows 95 to the world and that was the end of anything else on the desktop. OS/2 was important to me down through the years. I remember visiting the IBM offices in Austin with about six or seven PC Week staffers to discuss OS/2 back in the late 1980's. We had an all-day briefing on the software, meeting with IBMers from around the globe that had been flown down to Austin just to brief us about their technology. And I tried without success to write a book on OS/2, a project that ended with an unpublished manuscript I still have kicking around my office someplace.

I was thinking about IBM last week, when I had the opportunity to return to the giant Austin complex. OS/2 is still around these days, although not as critical to the world of IBM as it once was. And PC Week has been renamed eWeek, not as critical to the desktop IT warrior as it once was. All I could think of as I drove around the Austin campus were the lines from Ozymandius, a poem by Shelley that I had to memorize in fourth or fifth grade. The last lines go: "Round the decay | Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare | The lone and level sands stretch far away."

Actually, the buildings are still standing, and filled with people, although on the day of my visit they were eerily quiet and somehow soulless. Or maybe that is my own projection. And I would have to say that in the past ten years has seen IBM rise from the depths of its OS/2 despair to remake the company into a fairly respectable services company. And ironically, as I type these words today I am using an IBM desktop computer -- my first purchase of IBM gear in at least a decade. (A NetVista "legacy free" PC, if you must know. Also ironic for IBM, where the legacy refers to parallel, serial, and mouse ports that it created with the first PCs back in the early 1980s.)

We have come a long way in the past ten years. Now I write articles about tracking different firms' response to email queries, and compose CIO "Internet Quotient" tests to measure how Internet-savvy your boss may be. I couldn't imagine writing these things even three years ago, and a magazine called "Financial Technology" geared towards IT applications in the financial sector would have been unthinkable back then.

But enough tripping down memory lane. Let me just say a brief thanks for all of your support over my varied career in this industry. I feel fortunate that I can do the kind of work I do with the kind of intellectual independence, financial support, and freedom that I have. Over time I also feel fortunate that I have worked for the best editors, the best clients, and met hundreds of people at various events around the world that have taught me a great deal about technology. I am amazed at how I can still find some original, interesting, and provocative ideas to put out to this mailing list each week. (Or so I hope.) And I appreciate all your feedback -- both positive and critical -- that I have received over the years about my writing.

Here's to the next ten, may they be just as interesting and fun.

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David Strom
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