News on Laptops

Communications technology would have to improve before local newspapers could use it as an alternative to print. This was not, however, the reason publishers doubted the viability of online newspapers. High telephone tariffs, low bandwidth of dial-up connections, and PCs still too expensive for home use were just three items on the list Julie recited to us every morning. I took her to meet Hermann Hauser, who was heading up the Olivetti Research Centre at the time. We started with a demonstration of Andy Hopper’s 1990s version of cloud computing. Then on to Hauser’s ActiveBook which, by then, had become AT&T’s EO Personal Communicator. But there was no convincing Julie we were about to witness a revolution in newspaper publishing. Admittedly, neither was Hauser particularly encouraging. His EO, like the Apple Newton, was about to join the long list of failed electronic personal communicators. Hauser’s own attempt at television based multimedia also came to an abrupt end when sales of an Acorn based product called NetStation failed to take off. The ActiveBook concept was dead and it would be another two decades before Amazon rekindled it.

With a demonstration version of the PictureBook electronic newspaper loaded onto one of the first IBM ThinkPads, I did the rounds of publishing and technology conferences. By now, the presentation had those pop-up video advertisements we have come to love so much. This effort to convince the newspaper publishers they could eat local broadcasters’ lunch was largely ignored. Pulling publishers in the other direction were consultants such as Media Generics. They suggested local newspapers install colour presses and squeeze the last remaining cash out of local advertising. Twenty years is how long they calculated before people would start reading local news online …

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... (An extract from The Ghost in the Labyrinth by Peter Kruger)


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