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Surf The Net On Your TV? 21 November 2000 Edition
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For several years now we've been offered the promise that one day RSN (Real Soon Now) we'd all be able to surf the Web and exchange emails using a black box connected to our TV sets.

In the USA, Microsoft has poured a whole pile of cash into its WebTV operation that is designed to do just this.

Closer to home, several attempts have been made to launch similar boxes as a way of getting non-computer types onto the net but to date they have met with little consumer interest.

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However, with the arrival of Digital TV, the winds of change may be about to blow.

Both Sky TV and TVNZ have hinted that they're planning to include Net-surfing and email as part of their digital offerings for use with a regular TV set.

It will be interesting therefore to see whether IHUG's decision to launch the "Surfboard", a black box and keyboard which Net-enables your TV set, will fly.

I think their timing is excellent. Not only is the Internet now an established medium but they'll get in ahead of Sky and TVNZ.

The company says their trials indicate that "people with little or no computer experience have been up and running in minutes" -- and that's a critical factor. While NZ has excellent levels of Internet use by world standards, those who have yet to take the plunge tend to be the techno-phobic types who are worried that one false keypress will launch a global nuclear war. These are clearly the people such a device is designed to appeal to.

The only concerns I'd have are that with the increasing number of websites that now carry advisories such as "Best viewed at 800x600 or 1024x768 resolution", the viewing experience on that 14" portable in the bedroom might be less than optimal.

Microsoft have addressed this problem by having their WebTV users access the Net through specially dedicated servers which automatically adjust critical aspects of websites being accessed. Unfortunately, according to reports, this method does sometimes create unfortunate side-effects that produce other problems.

Perhaps the biggest thing IHUG has in its favour when launching a device such as this is their (in my experience) excellent helpdesk. Last week I upgraded the satellite card in my PC and had difficulties getting the new one going so (instead of reading the manual) I called the helpdesk.

My call was answered in just a few rings and the problem was solved in about 30 seconds. I wasn't treated like a complete idiot (even though I felt like one) and the support person obviously understood people as much as PCs. That's all too uncommon these days where some ISPs seem bent on slashing costs by equipping their helpdesks with people who can't step outside the flowchart or pre-written Q&A lists.

I shall watch the progress of this device with interest.

The Weekly
Yes, I know the first edition of the weekly has yet to appear -- but I'm still working on it.

Hopefully (if current leads pan out) it will include a very interesting expose' into the astoundingly bad behaviour of a group of local "new economy" company directors (some of who are also on the board of a public company). Just how competent and ethical are the managers of some of our hi-tech public companies?

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