Ray Richards is founder of Mindspan Consultants and a technology journalist hailing from Ottawa, Canada

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Technology Boredom

Well, there I sat at 4:07am in a vain attempt to come up with some subject matter for a column my editor required that same morning. It then occurred to me that the all night search (which included a brief sojourn at a local pub in order that I might procure some liquid inspiration) was not a result of a lack of imagination, or the fact that I have been writing monthly columns for too many years... it was indeed because there was nothing to write about.

Don't get me wrong; there are more innovations in the world of Information Technology than ever – yet perhaps that was truly the root of my impasse. The pace of change has become so rapid that most choose to ignore the daily deluge of ho-hum upgrades and "life changing" technologies that all vie for a momentary toehold on our collective consciousness. With everything promising to be the "next big thing" we soon tire of they who would divert our attention with arresting cries which might better be labelled as "wolf".

Whatever happened to the dot-com revolution? The wireless world? Is your company using groupware? Are smart cards part of your daily life? Have you all switched to open source software and adopted Linux as your primary operating system? How many of your yearly acquisitions are actually purchased online? Whatever happened to the "paperless office"? Has virtual reality become anything more than fodder for the Hollywood money machine? How many of you own High Definition televisions? Can I suppose that most of you are using thin clients now?

No?! Well, I just can't believe it. I think I'll have to strap on my jet pack and whisk off to Palo Alto to root out the source of the difficulty.

There should be a great deal to write about – from Microsoft alone, having just released Office XP , in addition to the Windows XP and Visual Basic .Net betas you'd think I'd have plenty of material to drone on about. The fact is, that to most it's a big yawn.

Why? Let's take a look at Office XP as an example. Aside from the fact that the new version lacks any stunning innovations, it seems to primarily include enhancements to pre-existing features that few utilised in the first place.

Apparently, even Microsoft is scratching their heads to come up with reasons to buy it – as evidenced by the fact that upon its release, their website prominently announced the retirement of "Clippy", the universally despised animated paperclip, from the Office suite as a blessing to all. They went so far as to create not one, but three lengthy (and certainly costly) Flash animations featuring the almost equally annoying voice of Gilbert Gottfried, depicting poor Clippy's demise. Clearly the intent was for us to see the removal of a feature as an upgrade. Well,  if this isn't a reason to run out and buy a copy, I don't know what is.

So what about Windows XP? Microsoft is touting the upcoming version as the biggest thing to hit the street since Win95. Do any of you remember the sincere anticipation associated with Windows 95's release? Sure you do – it lasted for years. Is there anything even remotely approaching that level of enthusiasm in connection with XP? The apathy by contrast is almost palpable. How many of you upgraded to Windows Millennium... or even Windows 98 SE? (those of you who actually bought it that is...)

The thing is, that if a product seems "good enough" to most people, little interest is generated over so-called upgrades – even if it really isn't. It is surprising what people actually get used to.Windows has had such a terrible reputation for crashing for so long that we just take it in stride and develop coping strategies.

While collaborating on documents during board meetings, my CFO squawks "have you saved that...?" with the regularity of a parrot in need of Ritalin. Now, MS is proclaiming the "rock-solid" nature of XP will put an end to all of these woes. To my mind, this would be akin to Firestone running an ad:  "Hey! Our soon-to-be released tires don't explode anymore! Reserve 4 today!".

Microsoft is certainly not the only company guilty of subscribing to the over-hyped technology trickle strategy. How many processors need Intel release over the course of a year? Do you know what the highest available processing speed is today? I'd have to look it up. It seems I accept new product related announcements from Adobe every few days.  I receive unsolicited faxes extolling the virtues of the latest Dell product about twice a month... the list goes on.

My point, I suppose, is that if you haven't given me adequate opportunity to appreciate the fine workmanship and quality of your last offering before you inform me that it's crap and make me spend more money on a lacklustre upgrade, don't expect me to get all gooey over the prospect. In fact, don't expect me to pay you any notice whatever.

Originally published in HUB: Digital Living magazine, July, 2001, by technology columnist, Ray Richards.

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