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27 January 1999
If I'd known it was the last time
I'd have paid more attention
If I'd known it was my last chance
I'd have tried so much harder
-- "Sudden Chill", Jimmy Wakefield, Missing: Presumed Dozing

From the Department of Bogus Marketing: Got some paper spam yesterday (junk mail) from an outfit named EarthWeb. They're advertising a service named ITKnowledge where you can browse & search a few hundred reference books on programming, troubleshooting and other technical stuff.

Their intro letter had Mark Schlack's picture on it (who was editor-in-chief of Byte back when it was still a real live magazine), which was enough to get me to at least skim the letter. The service seemed like it might be useful if I were deeper into lower-level programming - I'd probably care about easily browsing hundreds of books for arcane syntax and helpful expertise.

However, the deal they offered was missing a crucial datum: how much will it cost? They offer a free 14-day trial, but say nothing about what happens at the end of it; no dollar amounts at all, not even in the teeny tiny print. Looking at it closer now, I do see that it says "Our online signup form has all the details on the terms and conditions of the offer".

That says to me:

  • "We still haven't figured out how we're going to price this, so we're putting that decision off a couple more days since we can update the web site on a moment's notice"
  • "This costs way more than you'll want to pay, and we want to hook you into the service before telling you the cost."

All right, fine. I visit the site - Three guesses as to what I find.

Exactly: "What happens after the first 14 days" is still gloriously undefined on the offer page. Oo, but there is a handy signup form just waiting...

Certainly the terms will be presented on one of the screens after the initial form one encounters (unless there's something seriously screwy on their site...), but should one have to disclose personal information just to see the price? Eh? I thought there was some sort of legal requirement to disclose what the consumer might be getting themselves into...?

I'm not bashing the service -- it sounds interesting. But the presentation of the offer is badly bungled, enough to set off some mental alarm bells. Because of it, I won't be going near them.

Windows isn't cheap (no matter how many times Gates asserts that it is), but at least it's in the same ballpark as its competitors. But Office...? Office is criminally expensive: up to $999 for the next version? [PC Week] Exsqueeze me? $499 for the standard package? What, are they expecting a collapse of the dollar?

Most of the functionality I want out of an 'office' package, I can get from something like ClarisWorks (word processor, spreadsheet, database, drawing and more) for <$100. Methinks Office is the primary source of MS' astonishing profitability.

  • It's unanimous: Office is no bargain by John Dodge [PC Week]
    [a CIO says:] "We don't want any new features. We want stability. We want apps that don't crash. We put huge resources into converting from Access 2.0 to Access 97. We will stick with Access 97 for a long time. As far as Office 2000 being 'Web ready,' that is a nonevent for me. How many companies want everyone in the company able to publish things to an Internet/intranet site? We currently have policies and passwords in place to limit such a thing."

What I'd really love is the functionality of Word for Windows 2.0 (or, I suppose, 6.0) in a rock-solid debugged version, and I bet it would be brilliantly speedy running at the clip of a modern chip. But no, on Windows I will have a choice of Write.exe (it's getting there, but still not sufficient for all one's writing) or Capacity Hog From Featuritis Hell 2000. WordPerfect and Word Pro have been commiting the same sins for years of adding features most people don't need just to claim feature parity with the market leader, at the cost of stability and predictability. You'd think there would be a massive market for a quality low- to midrange word processor, but what idiot in his right mind would try to compete against Microsoft Word with a new program? Certainly no one would fund them.

Site notes: I spent a lot of time this evening tweaking the plumbing for this site, with (wait for it...) practically no visible effect. :) Yes, everything looks pretty much exactly the same, but trust me, it's better; now there's less manual tweaking-work involved in putting up a new entry, which may smooth the way to more frequent posts. (Ut! No promises!)

(For the Frontier-curious, I moved the whole shebang to a guest database and reconstructed a lot of the macros to execute based on where in the object database they're being run from instead of having to manually enter parameters for each one. It's quite cute, actually. :)

I plan to automate more of the process as I go; there's still more manual work involved than I'd like, but it's definitely an improvement. Eventually there'll be a menu of recent entries automatically generated on the left side. I could do it manually now, but that would just add more work every time I want to post. It'll have to wait until I can do it programmatically.

Specific visible changes so far:

  • Proper titling of old log entries, i.e. auto-include the date in the page title so they'll be distinct from each other in history lists.
  • Added & automated "This entry's permanent home is -- " link.

<contented sigh> Good night.

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