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Modern “Christmas Story:” Network Centric Computing Strains Brains

Elephants on the Internet

“Easy to Use” Software May Only Be Easy for “Techno-Nerds”

PHOENIX, Dec. 22, 1995 - What does a guy do on the last working day before Christmas?  “Get out of the office and have some fun,” I suppose would have been your advice?

“Get a life!” is probably what my kids would have suggested.

Surfing the Net...

  Source: Annex Research

Well, sorry to disappoint you all...

Since I figured that the phones would be dead, and everybody else would be doing their “last minute Christmas shopping,” I thought I’d sneak into my office and do some things for which I “never have time” during the normal office routine. 

Like “surfing the Net...”

Well, not quite.  I’ve learned long ago that that most of the Internet “surfers” are the types who probably do it between commercials on the Oprah or Geraldo talk shows.  Or the “Information Superhighway” engineers, like Al Gore or Bill Clinton... Either way, not exactly a crowd I usually hang out with.

I thought I’d use this time to try to get some “hands-on” experience in actually installing and running applications on the Internet.  “Suppose I had no technical staff,” I reasoned.  “Suppose I’d just read all these raving reports about the importance of ‘network centric computing” and its ease of use, and decided it was time for this late blooming Baby Boomer to get on the bandwagon.  What would happen?”

I chose one IBM and one AT&T application to test this “Brave New World.”  What follows is an account of how I made out.  As you will see, I probably should have “gotten a life,” or just gone off to a gym or something.  For it would have been better than spending the afternoon surfing the Net on the back of elephants!

Keep in mind this one little fact, though.  What follows is the experience of a person who put his first electronic newsletter on-line in 1983!  (No typo there... it was 12+ years ago!).  The outfit was called “NewsNet” back then.  And it was based in Bryn Mawr, PA (see "ACR Goes Electronic," Nov/83). 

Ever heard of it?  I suppose not.  Rarely does one hear about true pioneers or visionaries.  Only about those who converted their ideas into cash boxes. 

“But at what price to the customer?” one should wonder. 

Here are two examples.  One  is IBM.  Another is AT&T.  Both claim to be the leading edge Internet “surfers.”  Based on my experiences, you should be judge of how good they have become at it.

Slave and Master

  Source: Annex Research

The IBM Story.  The Dec. 18 issue of Computerworld contained a two-inch story entitled, “IBM, Reuters unveil ticker tape-style Internet news.”  Users were encouraged to download the software from

I did.  Twice!  Both times, after I had already spent some 30 minutes filling out various IBM administrative electronic forms to register as a new user, etc. - just to be REJECTED!  Twice!

I had no clue why, at first, having dutifully followed all the stupid IBM bureaucratic instructions. 

Want to know the reason I was rejected?  Because my chosen network ID had only five characters (“ANNEX”), rather than “six to eight” as IBM demanded!

But the real intelligence test was to figure out that what the problem was.  Not once did IBM tell me why it was rejecting my registration.

Instead, “tisk, tisk... stupid customer!” I could just hear the Big Blue technocrats gloating.  “We told you so and you didn’t follow the rules.  So you shall have do some penance or else fry in hell!”

Well I managed to avoid that.  But after I became a duly-registered user, I was told by IBM that “WINSOCK.DLL” was missing.

Really?  The “WINSOCK...” was missing?  What the heck is “WINSOCK..." anyway?  Some sort of a prize I was supposed to have won at a socks manufacturers’ raffle?

Getting Started...

  Source: Annex Research

Realizing that I probably never took part in anything like that (we don’t bother with socks most of the year down here in the Southwest), I concluded that I must have again done something wrong with this “easy-to-use” software.  I fretted my next interaction with IBM’s software experts.

Following the instructions, I sent them an e-mail SOS:

“Please help!

I’ve just downloaded your TICKERIN. EXE file and attempted to install it.  Everything went well, according to your installation procedures.  But when I attempted to run the application, I got an error message:

Unable to locate file: WINSOCK.DLL. 

What the heck is that?

Bob Djurdjevic

TEL: 602/824-8111”

After that, I went to get some bagels for lunch.  I was pleasantly surprised by the speed of the IBM’s response: 

“Thank you for your feedback about the infoMarket service.  Customer Service will respond to you within one business day.  We appreciate your comments and interest in our service.”

It was “pure guava.”

This IBM “PR fluff”-type message was posted within a couple of minutes after mine, I found out later on, upon checking the logs.  But more importantly, just over an hour later, I also got a more meaningful e-mail message from K.R., an IBM Customer Service representative:

“... One of the prerequisites to running NewsTicker is to access the Internet with a “Live” connection.  In your case, accessing the Internet through AOL is not a live Internet connection, and hence you are receiving an error message...

...If you e-mail us with more information on your problem and the phone number where you can be reached, we will be glad to give you a call back.”

The message ended with some more “PR fluff.”  Still, I was impressed with IBM’s speed of response, if not with the substance of the message, or IBM’s attention to detail.  So I shot back the following e-mail message:

“Thanks for your e-mail answer.

I did provide my tel. no. + it is in my registered file...”

But I gave it to IBM again anyway..

“P.S. By the way, if being ‘live’ is a prerequisite for this piece of software, I suggest you should tell the people about it BEFOREHAND - before they go through all the trouble and expense of downloading and installing the software.”

Within the hour (impressive, again!) I got a call from a lady (I’ll call her Lady X, without any implied linkages to Malcolm).  Lady X said that she was responding to my message to K.R.   “I was there when he was replying to you,” she said.  “He’s gone for the day now.”

I looked at my watch.  It was about 4 p.m. on the East Coast.

“So you’re the unlucky one who got stuck having to answer dumb questions from IBM customers on a pre-Christmas afternoon when everybody else is goofing off,” I joked.

“I am afraid so,” Lady X laughed.

We went over my problem again. 

“How does one get to have a ‘live’ connection to the Internet?” I asked.

“Well, we have this Advantis connection,” she suggested.  “Or you can look in your Yellow Pages for providers of the Internet Connection Service.”

“Advantis?” I repeated.  “Isn’t that the (former) Sears network?”

“It’s also IBM,” Lady X reassured me.  But she didn’t sound terribly convinced.

“As for your suggestion that we should publicize the ‘live’ connection requirement, it’s right there in the specs,” she continued.

“It is?” I said, sounding bewildered.  “Hold on... I’ve got the stuff printed right here somewhere... Right!  Here it is!”

“It says, ‘an active Internet connection’ is needed,” I read from the instructions.  “Is that it?”

“That’s it,” Lady X confirmed.

“And would you like to know what that phrase meant to me?”


“That I’d paid my bills on time, and that no one cut me off the Internet.”

Lady X was now laughing heartily. 

I guess not all “Christmas Eve” calls are a bore... Or made by Scrooges...

As for my remedy... there was none!  Not until I got linked up to the Internet “live,” or what the old-timers in the industry might have said - go “native.”

As one of the “old timers” who had seen his share of antitrust litigation, this somehow reeked of anti-competitive practices - locking out AOL, Compuserve etc. who supposedly were not “live!?”

But I wasn’t about to spoil Lady X’s “Christmas Eve” any more than I already had.  So I just let that slide, thanked her and said good-bye.


The AT&T Story.  A mailer which arrived in our office on Nov. 24 promoted the “AT&T Business Network.”  It offered CNN Business News, Dow Jones Business Information, Dun & Bradstreet Information Services, among other things.

So I said to my staff that, maybe, we ought to try it out.

On Dec. 20, our AT&T rep dropped off the three floppy disks of requisite software, along with the installation instructions.  She also wrote me a note in her own hand:

“Please send me a mail message indicating that you have installed the software. and tell me what you think.”

 As you all know by now, this afternoon was my chosen time to “surf the Net.”

Having already failed with IBM, I held out hope that maybe this other industrial era elephant may have caught up to the Internet age in more ways than just in its advertising campaigns.  I was wrong...

After I followed diligently all AT&T instructions, which probably took about 20 minutes or so, I tried to sign on to the new network.

I was rejected (“Just like IBM!” I thought).  This time, my “Signup Number” was supposedly wrong.

I had a member of my family verify visually on the screen that the number I had typed in was the same one which AT&T provided.  It was.

Network Centric Computing

  Source: Annex Research

As with IBM, I then engaged in some “intelligence-testing games.”  “What if I typed the letter ‘L,” in caps, rather than in small print, as I did originally?” I thought.

No luck. 

“Rejected!” AT&T droned.

“Okay.  What if I dropped the hyphens, and just typed in the number itself?” I reasoned next.

“Rejected!” (again).  And not just gently, either.  “Disconnecting...” - an Internet message flashed across my screen.

My family member felt sorry for me.  “Why don’t you try this 800-number?” she suggested.

I did.  I blew it again.  At first... 

Before I ever got to talk to a live AT&T person, I’d punched in evidently a “wrong” numeric code for a touch-tone set. 

So I was quizzed if I wanted to sign up for the Minneapolis “something or other” news service...?  Or for the Washington Post’s “something or other” news wire...?

Eventually, I just hung up and started all over again.

“Hello, my name is Brian B...” a friendly voice answered, after I had passed the test on pressing the right telephone set numbers.  “How can I help you?” 

I explained my problem.

“And you disconnected yourself?” he asked, exemplifying the trait of bureaucrats world over whose first impulse is to assume that the customer must be wrong.

“No,” I replied.  “I was forcibly disconnected by your (AT&T) software.”

“Hm...” was all Brian said in response.

“So what do we do now?” I adopted the family doctor’s favorite line (“What seems to be our trouble today?”).

“I guess we’ll have to issue you another Signup Number.”

“That’s okay with me.  I am not particularly fond of this one anyway.  What’s the new number?”

“I am afraid it’s not that simple.”

“It’s not?  Why not?  Why can’t you just give me another number to try?”

“Because it takes at least two days to get one.  It all has to do with our administration.  And they are all out now.”

“I see... Are you a Canadian, by any chance?” I sprung an evidently surprising question to my AT&T rep.

“Yes, but...”

“But how did I know?”


“Because you pronounced ‘out,’ as if it were ‘oot’,” I explained.  “What part of Canada are you from?”

“Winnipeg,” Brian replied.

“Glad to know you, Brian!” I said.

“Sir?” Brian interjected.


“In case you want to know it, your case number is Q70....”

“Oh, it is?  Say it again, please...”

 Whereupon I sent the following message to my AT&T rep:

“My EA, told me that you dropped off the package personally.  Thank you. 

You asked me to give you some feedback about our experience with it.  So here it is...


1. The first failure occurred because your software REJECTED the Signon Number which I was provided after my first attempt to use it.

Outta here...

The Internet


Source: Annex Research

2. The second failure occurred when I tried to change it to get rid of the hyphens.  It still didn't work.  The system then FORCIBLY signed me off!  I had nothing to go by to restart it other than call your 800-number (299-9699).  Which is what I did.

3. The third failure occurred when a nice man from Winnipeg, Brian B. (not sure of the spelling?) tried to help.  But he said that the Signon Number had been probably already assigned to someone and that he would try to get me a new one.  But he said he couldn't do it any sooner than two days (!?), because of "administrative reasons." He did suggest, though, that I try to run the setup again.

4. The fourth failure occurred when I followed his advice.  Not only did I waste another 20 minutes installing the software; not only was I rejected again, but this time your system caused a General Protection Failure on my computer.  Which meant I had to reboot everything from scratch just to send you this note. 

And all this was supposed to have saved me something (I can't remember what?) if I signed up before Dec. 31, 1995?  You can probably figure out yourself what my message to your marketing people would be...

Now, you may not be interested to know how much this little exercise in "saving a penny to spend a dollar" has cost me at MY HOURLY RATES as a global IT industry consultant.  But since you asked for feedback, you got it.  Just make sure that the next time you bring something to Annex that you had PERSONALLY tested it, if you hope to rebuild the remaining shreds of AT&T's credibility with us.”

Happy bargain hunting!

Bob Djurdjevic


Can you afford not to know such things if you're a global competitor?  If you agree, call us as (602) 824-8111.

Volume XI, No. 95-66
December 22, 1995

Editor: Bob Djurdjevic
Published by Annex Research;

5110 North 40th Street,      Phoenix, Arizona 85018
TEL: (602) 824-8111        FAX:

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