Bill Gates, the Microsoft chairman, spoke last week about the anti-trust case brought by the US Department of Justice, arguing that his company needs to be free to innovate without government interference and that the DOJ was asking Microsoft not to build refinements into subsequent versions of its products. In an interview with the Silicon Valley's San Jose Mercury News, he said: "We're continuing the development [of Windows 98]. What the government has said so far is that they'd just like us to ship crippled products. Basically, if you have somebody who's politically connected and who has a feature that they like, then you have to create a version of the product that's crippled so that that person doesn't feel like the operating system is providing the thing they want to provide.
"We certainly can't take all the different things that various people might ask us to cripple and create [myriad] versions. In the case of Windows 98, we're planning to ship it as is, on time."
Disconcertingly for the consumer, competition and innovation are synonymous with built-in obsolescence. "It's a very competitive business," Gates said. "It's not like a lot of businesses where you can say 10 years from now the leader will still be the leader. This is a business where the product we ship today, I guarantee you, won't even be a product that will sell in three or four years. If we don't [innovate] there are many, many people who are very glad to step into that position. We always have to be very innovative. And it's the unfettered ability to do that that has created the PC industry."
Apple plans radical restructure for Claris
Apple Computer said its subsidiary company, Claris, is restructuring to focus only on its FileMaker Pro database and Homepage Web publishing software. Apple has absorbed ClarisDraw and the ClarisWorks suite and taken back sole responsibility for the distribution and production of the Macintosh operating system, which it ceded to Claris in 1995.
For Claris the restructuring means 300 redundancies and a change of company name to FileMaker Inc. By stripping unwanted software from the core product, the move could pave the way for Apple to sell Claris or prepare it for public offering. FileMaker is the most popular database software for the Macintosh and is the second most popular stand-alone database for Windows. Sales of FileMaker Pro were $73m in 1997. Sales of the Windows versions more than tripled during the past two years to $28m and grew 77 per cent during the most recent quarter.
Oracle and CBS to develop Web television
While fully interactive Web television is still some way off, Oracle and CBS New Media have teamed up to develop technologies and test the water. The partnership sees CBS join ABC, BBC, CNN and NBC on the Web as TV networks try to work out their Web strategies. They face competition from each other, as well as from online services and Internet search directories, which threaten to cut into their audience and advertising revenues.
CBS.com, a 24-hour online news service just launched in the United States, uses an Oracle-built network (CBSNow) to allow producers to use CBS video footage and content from 155 localised US affiliates to create pages with local as well as national material. When visitors arrive at http://www.cbs.com, they are asked to enter their zip code so that an appropriate local page can be displayed. The idea is that advertisers get a more targeted audience and users get Web access through a familiar TV station. Whether Web surfers will be encouraged to use such branded neighbourhood pages as access points for the Web rather than going direct to sites of specific interest remains an open question.
CBS is trying to "take steps today that dovetail with digital television in the future", said Dean Daniels, vice-president of CBS New Media. "Using the Oracle database, a massive filing system used to manage large amounts of information at the core of the distribution system, CBSNow is able to serve up text, images, audio and video in the form of anything from news-related polls to coverage of live events."
Push technology hype cuts no ice
The efforts of Microsoft and Netscape to sell the joys of push channels are not finding favour among Web users, according to a PC World Online survey. Of 1,900 respondents, only 28.7 per cent had bothered to subscribe to any channels. Among subscribers 41 per cent preferred Microsoft's Active Channels, 29 per cent favoured PointCast and 15 per cent Netscape Netcaster.
Of those surveyed, only 8 per cent said they would like information delivered by push channels, 92 per cent preferred to use their browser's bookmarks or favourites menus to access sites of their choice. "Having Web content shoved down my throat completely defeats the interactivity I enjoy from the Net," said one respondent. "If I wanted that, I'd watch TV."
Entries sought for 1998 Bima Awards
The deadline is nearing for entries in the 14th annual British Interactive Multimedia Association (Bima) Awards, which will be presented on 30 March at the Park Lane Hilton. The 1998 Bimas will be awarded in 16 categories in three areas: Education, published titles and online services for formal education and personal development, business and consumer; Business, commissioned and published titles, primarily for business-to-business or internal corporate communications and training; and Consumer, published titles and online services primarily for business-to-consumer communications and the consumer market. More information and downloadable entry forms are available from the Bima web site (http://www.bima.co.uk).