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Commentary for: 2 February 1997

Aardvark gives Gates a billion $
award logo Here's my billion dollar idea of the week - and I'm offering it to Microsoft (like they need the money!).

Currently there are some significant changes afoot over the way top level domain names (.com, .org, net, etc) are issued. I won't bore you with the details - the best place to find those are at the 2Day Internet DNS news page but suffice to say that there's a bit of a power-struggle going on between the U.S. private and government players and a multi-national organisation called CORE.

More interesting than the politics and practicalities of these discussions is the huge opportunity this must present for Microsoft.

To date, Bill's attempts to grab control of the Net have been fraught with problems. For a start, his original MSN venture and its plan to build a separate global network to compete with the Net fell flat on its face - even though it was a part of every Windows 95 desktop. Next up, his attempt to steal the browser market from Netscape has become somewhat protracted - and although he's "getting there", it's taking a long time. What's worse, Netscape's latest ploy of giving away their browser and its source code may slow the MS takeover even more.

So what should Bill Gates be doing that will allow him to control the Net?

Simple! He should build an alternative to the existing domain name system on which the Net is reliant. While the others are playing politics and discussing the minutiae of who does what and how, Microsoft could step in and replace the whole thing, lock stock and barrel.

You're probably asking yourself "why Microsoft?". Surely there are a whole host of others who have the money and the resources to also attempt such a thing. Well not really - you see the only way they can "take over" is to alter the way your browser and email programs use domain names.

At present, when you enter a URL in the location line of your browser, a request is sent to the DNS server specified in your Internet setup. If the name's not found there the request is forwarded up the chain until eventually it's either found - or an error is returned. Since the handling of these name-lookup requests is handled by the established chain of DNS servers, there would appear to be no way for a 3rd party to muscle in on the existing system without the support of all the ISPs and others who operate DNS servers. Unless....

Unless of course you're the company which is writing the browser!

Because Microsoft owns IE4 and shortly anyone (including Microsoft) will be able to modify Netscape to suit themselves, it is now possible for Microsoft to set up its own equivalent of the DNS in the form of an enhanced directory service.

Imagine being able to type in: www.acme*.com and instead of getting the message "This server does not have a DNS entry" you get a list of all the domain names which match. eg: www.acmefood.com, www.acmeflanges.com, www.acmebombs.com, etc. That's just one of the advanced features such an "enhanced directory service" could offer Net users.

To provide full backwards compatibility with the existing DNS system, the browser could be programmed to first look in the the Microsoft directory and then, if that fails, automatically fall back to the existing service. This would allow both directory systems to run side-by-side.

Now from Microsoft's perspective they'd be free to create whatever domain names they wanted and sell them to the public. For instance, if I had enough money, I could register www.aardvark - or just plain aardvark with the Microsoft service and this would work on all of Microsoft's new browsers and the modified versions of Netscape. It would be sensible (to avoid conflicts of the legal kind) not to issue domain names using any of the existing top level domains such as .com, .net, edu, etc - but that's not a problem because, as I pointed out, I could then get just plain aardvark or aardvark.news or anything else I wanted that wasn't already taken.

When you consider how much money is collected in domain name fees every year you can see that this could amount to a huge revenue stream for Microsoft - PLUS it would give them a that control and domination that Bill seems to lust over. Imagine - Microsoft could create any new domain they wanted and sell it for whatever they could get for it. Given how much has been paid recently for generic domains such as internet.com and computer.com, imagine how much they'd get for just plain news or just plain internet

Nobody would be forced to buy an MS domain name. If the name entered wasn't found in the Microsoft directory the browser would simply fall back to the old DNS system. But... if MS offered *free* (or very low cost) registrations to those companies which used their back-end software instead of some other vendor's you, could imagine just how much more attractive that might make those products. Also, once people realised the greatly increased power and flexibility of the "enhanced" Microsoft service - they'd probably want to register anyway.

It is quite conceivable that after a while, the existing DNS would become all but redundant as other Net-software vendors fell into line with the Microsoft "enhanced" Internet directory standard and made their products compliant.

I don't think it's hard to see that this is a pretty good idea and that Microsoft is about the only company in the right position to do it. Given that you don't become a billionaire without being at least a little smart - do you think Billy-boy might have already broken out the double-rations of pizza and coke to get this thing started?

Now Mr Gates, *that* is how you can take over the (Internet) world!

Is this an original idea? - or has the Aardvark been leaked an internal Microsoft memo from someone who is in a position to know? Keep your eyes peeled to find out - my lips are sealed!

I'd like some feedback from readers on this one!

Who needs Amazon.com? Save the trees!
Last week I bought a book from Dymocks here in Auckland during their big sale. I thought I'd gotten good value (it was even cheaper than buying the same title from Amazon.com) and was very happy with my purchase. However, a couple of days later I was cruising the Net and came across the Personal Bookshelf site from MacMillan Computer Publishing.

There was the book I'd bought - online - for FREE.

Actually, there were a whole lot of very good titles online for free!

I must admit that since I started using the Net, the amount of money I spend on books has dropped significantly. Just 3-4 years ago, I used to spend around $200-$300 per month on reference books but the book I bought last week was the first I'd purchased in almost 2 years.

With so much reference material available on the Web, there's simply little point these days in buying dead trees stained with ink. Books are cumbersome to use (except in "browse mode"), they won't stay open at the right page, are expensive to house, go out of date so quickly and if you've ever moved house you'll know just how much a couple of hundred books can weigh!

Sure, sitting up in bed with a 15 inch monitor balanced on your knee isn't quite the same as dozing off with a good book in your hand but I'm talking technical books here. The "how-to's" and good old computer language and software reference stuff - not that Mills and Boon you've been hiding from the wife (lest she thinks your a wuss).

Anyway, back to the Personal Bookshelf site. Like a mini-library, this site lets you "check out" books on a wide range of computer and internet-related subjects. You can have up to 5 books out at a time and you can return any of them and take out a different title whenever you want.

There was the book I paid $49 for - and it was actually easier to use in its online format - I can keep it onscreen while I'm programming (my virtual desktop isn't half as untidy as my real one!) and do searches for keywords using my browser. I can also bookmark particular sections for rapid access and cut and past bits of sample code straight into my editor without having to re-key or find and use the accompanying CDROM. In a word - "brilliant"!

The only thing I'm left wondering is - how do they make any money out of this? Will it soon become a "pay per use" service? Will we have to fork out $ to read a book or maybe we'll be able to pay a lesser amount and download the title of our choice in HTML or Adobe PDF. Actually - I'd kind of like that option. Buying from Amazon is all well and good but you've got to pay US$12.95 if you want a single book airmailed to you (that's NZ$20) and you end up buying sight-unseen. By throwing the contents and maybe the first chapter or so of a book online for evaluation then allowing you to download the whole thing for (say) 50% of the cover price I'm sure the result would be a significant increase in the sale of "good" titles.

Perhaps the publishers of computer-related technical books have already noticed a downturn in sales and are in the process of positioning themselves for the "new generation" in electronic publishing?

Downloaded any good books recently?

Apologise be damned!
A few words about ICBIT
It appears that most Aardvark readers find the ICBIT (I Can't Believe It's True) section rather entertaining - after all, we'd be in a pretty sorry state if we, as an industry, couldn't poke a bit of fun at ourselves.

Unfortunately, not all the recipients of an ICBIT feel the same, and that's why I have the "Right Of Reply" where I promise to publish the response of anyone who feels that I've been unfair or inaccurate in what I've written. Let's face it, sometimes I get things wrong and sometimes people just disagree.

Well last week's ICBIT winner was not impressed and sent me an email saying that it was very unfair that I didn't let him know in advance about his site being featured and that I should apologise for some of the things I said. Fat chance buddy!

The piece concerned generated a heap of email from readers who visited the site using IE4 and were rather disappointed with what they found - a blank page! This simply reinforced the eligablity of this site for the award. There was also a little matter of the counter which I suggested wasn't an accurate representation of the number of visitors. Well it turns out that there were actually two counters side-by-side there - but using Netscape 3.01 it sure looked like this was just one counter - there was no gap between the two sets of digits.

So why is it that other award sites such as SODA, Lazer and Wammo usually contact the winners ahead of time but ICBIT doesn't?

Well it's pretty simple isn't it - as soon as most people find out that they've been featured in ICBIT, they rush out and fix whatever problems I've highlighted. If I were to warn them in advance, chances are ICBIT would become a waste of time and every week it would have to start with "before they fixed it, this site was....".

I did suggest to the owner of the site that he write me an ROR which I'd be more than happy to publish verbatim. He declined this offer however, not wishing to "participate in a slanging match with any tabloid".

ICBIT is a light-hearted look at how even the best in the industry sometimes slip-up and how we're all still trying to understand the Internet as a medium and a market. The guy who built and runs last week's site is, like many, simply trying to get a business started and make a few bucks from his passion - good on him! It's this kind of enthusiasm and dedication that has built the Net into what it is today - lord knows I've "been there, done that" myself.

Those who close their ears to criticism however are doomed to failure. Perhaps the operator of last week's site should take a leaf out of Danny de Hek's book. Danny, for all his failings, was smart enough to realise that the free publicity that he got from ICBIT was worth a fortune in terms of traffic and public awareness. In fact, a number of sites featured in ICBIT have emailed me with thanks because they'd fixed the problems and ended up with many more visitors they would have otherwise received.

Remember - the Net is just like showbusiness - there's no such thing as bad publicity!

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I Can't Believe It's True!

Did the wind change?

When I was a kid, whenever I pulled a stupid face, my mother would warn me that if the wind changed I'd stay like that forever. Of course we all know that's true - or is it?

Either Paul Bowden is very good at holding a pose for very long periods of time; the wind changed; or his claim that this picture is updated every 30 seconds is not really true.

Should have listened to mum?

And here's proof that it's happened before.

Right of Reply.

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