Gill Smith
Gill Smith - Comedy Writer & Performer

Gill's Journal, Issue

Eureka
Quarterly magazine of The ARM Club the Leading Independant
RISC OS Computer User Club.
The Chairman of the ARM Club and I are very concerned about you. I know thatís something weíve always been able to say about certain of The ARM Club committee, but weíre now becoming concerned about the membership. We hear rumours of people buying PCs, and even running Windows. Now, while we optimistically hope that this is just a ghastly, vicious rumour, with no basis in reality, spread by a certain Mr William Gates, we suspect that there might be some small basis of truth in these reports.

What can The ARM Club do, to stop you having to flock in your droves (how many in a drove? Are there still enough of you to flock?) to the doors of Mr Gates? How can we increase membership, and the number of users of ARM-based machines, and take on - and of course, defeat - the evil-empire (Microsoft, not Darth Vader!)

Gill Smith, who really does worry about you all, advises how you can be a really cool trendsetter and suggests a fun way to increase the size of the RISC OS market.
Now thatís where it gets really tricky. We know that the technology is more flexible, easier to use, and crashes far less often. These are all, clearly, good things. Sadly, these are not attributes that the general public seems to look for in an operating system. Oh no. They appear to look for the all-important attribute of being-the-same-as-their-friend-has-got. And you thought your kids wanted Nike trainers and Levi jeans because they genuinely thought they were the best?

So, weíve worked out "Quality of Product" is not a big sales technique that works. And thatís if we mildly gloss over the fact that there arenít an awful lot of ARM-based machines sitting around in warehouses waiting to be shipped anywhere. They do need to start actually producing them. I think thatís a pretty vital step, myself. Sadly not one thatís been happening much, but, in the usual ARM Club spirit, we remain sceptically optimistic that something will turn up boxed and ready to sell at the Autumn shows.

This still leaves the central problem - increasing the size of the ARM market, getting more people using them, and generally, somehow, beating down the forces of Windows, so that a few believers can continue to escape the mark of the beast (the "Intel Inside" sticker, in case you were wondering!)

Nope, not a clue.

But I donít think Peter is going to accept a journal quite that short, so Iíd better get racking my brains (how does someone rack? And to their own brains? Sounds painful!) Cartoon tardis, with K-9 Idea 1 is to travel back in time, and give Acorn a marketing budget, and to go with it, some marketers with a clue. Toby claims this was the only real problem Acorn had, otherwise being utterly great. Sadly, though, although Acorn usually were ahead of their time with technology, they only got as far as digital TV set-top boxes, not TARDISes, for us to pop back and sort out history. Pity. I think thatís a market that really could have taken off. I like the idea of my own personal police box, travelling through space and time. Itíd be so easy to beat the queues at the supermarket! And think of the time you could save commuting! When itís time to be at work, you just pop into your TARDIS, and youíre there, without any pesky traffic jams, or having to concentrate on your driving early in the morning! Running late? Oh well, set the TARDIS for arriving a bit earlier than you actually leave home. Cool!

But I digress. Anyone with a TARDIS, do let me know, as itís by far the simplest (and of course, not simply the only!) solution Iíve come up with so far. And if it comes complete with Tom Baker and K9, well, I always wanted to be Romana. Itís good to have a nice, achievable goal in life!

So, would I be right in guessing that time-travel isnít going to save the RISC OS market, at least not until someoneís invented it? That was my best shot! Ah, another solution presents itself. I have to warn you though, it involves you in some work. Yes, you. No, the fact that you only get Eureka for the educational stuff isnít a good enough excuse. No, you canít get out of it by claiming you just happened to pick Eureka up, but it really belongs to your wife / neighbour / gerbil.

The plan is this. We already discussed that people want something because itís cool, not because itís any good. And everyone likes to Ďkeep up with the Jonesesí (sorry to put extra responsibility on those of you called Jones!). Together, we need to make the RISC machine into something so worth coveting, so worth saving up the pocket money for, and so utterly cool, that teenagers will refuse to let other teens round to their houses, in case their friends see that Dad is being sooooo uncool and using a PC.

So your mission - should you choose to accept it - no, make that regardless of whether you want to or not - is to go and tell everyone you know all about your ARM machine, and how great it is. You have to talk it up. Make it sound even more amazing than it actually is, and the in-thing. Tell everyone you know that your machine is much, much cooler than theirís, because itís got the right label.

Just think - it wont be long before Camden Market runs a thriving trade in fake ĎAcorní logos to stick to the front of your far inferior machine. Dodgy Soho street vendors will offer you a cut-price machine, from the back of their van. "All genuine parts" theyíll claim, but you, as a trend-setter, will know itís not the original and best. Youíll have a real one - you were the fashionable sort who knew when they came out that these machines were cooler than a weekend break at the North Pole.

Heading back to reality for just a second (wont be long, I promise!), this does involve somehow persuading the poor, unsuspecting public to throw away their PCs and any peripherals that donít adapt. They need to give up their Windows, and their regular excuses that the computer crashed. They have to be convinced to say goodbye to the money spent on the PC, already wasted, as by the time it hit the shelves at ĎComputer Universeí it was a lot nearer to itís first crash.

Cartoon Cool Guy and Geek How do you go out there and make ARM-based computers look just to utterly cool that the rest of the population just canít resist? What do you need to do to make RISC OS this summerís must-have accessory? This is one of those moments where the fact that there isnít one anywhere boxed and ready to sell is particularly cool. It maintains the feeling of exclusivity, and allows those already owning one to feel suitably smug about being there first. The manufacturers then need to let them trickle onto the market, carefully maintaining the hype. (Subtle hint to manufacturers - that does mean making some!) And bingo, anyone without a nice little Acorn sticker on the front of their box will be left feeling that they havenít even made it into the dark ages yet, let alone out the other side into Ďcool.í

The plan is this. You go into pubs, clubs and bars with your mates - ok, with anyone you know - alright, by yourself, and then tell anyone whoíll listen, and many people who wont, all about this great new computer system youíve heard about. Make sure that you tell each person one-to-one. Tell them that itís a hot tip, and very, very important that they keep it to themselves. Emphasise that youíre not really meant to tell them, but as a mate, you thought youíd pass the news on.

Once youíve made it clear that secrecy should be total, you can be absolutely sure that the rumour will be passed around faster than a hand grenade without a pin. And thatís how a trend starts. Suddenly, everyone will want one. Whether thatís a fizzy drink, a brand of jeans, or of training shoes, all you need to do is tell each person that everyone else already wants one, but hasnít told them the secret, and that person will be rushing out to buy one. Each dashing off to the shops, in a desperate attempt to keep up with the ever changing, bewildering variations of Ďfashioní that face us.

Cartoon starwars Thereís still a little problem here, isnít there? Thatís this Ďtalk to peopleí bit. Not a trait that spods are famous for. Iíve never had to write a column asking the spods not to chatter so much. At least, they do talk sometimes, but Iím betting that the man in the pub doesnít really follow a word of the reasons why each spod uses that particular variety of Linux, nor care about the pros and cons of SMTP versus POP processing of their mail. Iím sorry to break it to you, but the general public just want Ďití - be Ďití e-mail or a graphics program - to work, and not mess things up too often. Such beautifully simple demands from life!

This leaves us needing to somehow train spods in the art of talking like normal human beings. Not in chat rooms, not by e-mail, not on mailing lists. Face to face with other people. And not about technology, until youíve convinced the poor unsuspecting individual, or "member of the general public," as theyíre known, that you are relatively normal, and kinda cool. Only then, once this perception has been safely built, can the spod reveal this superior knowledge - of fashion, of course - and pass on, Ďjust between you and meí their hot tip for the next trend in computer buying. But first, before anything else, each spod has to persuade their victim of my cunning marketing approach, that they are cool, and in the know about whatís trendy and fashionable.

OK, so maybe the TARDIS idea was a bit more realistic!

Iím a bit lacking in other bright ideas here. I mean, there is always emotional black-mail on the family, or even straight forward bribery, but I think that just leaves your Mum and kid brother in the market for a cheap ĎAcorní sticker from Camden market.

How about threats? No, your typical spod isnít exactly the threatening sort. And besides, who would worry about being beaten up by someone who hasnít been in a gym since they worked out that by word-processing their excuses to get off games lessons, they only needed to forge the parental signature, not their writing on the rest of the letter? And the letter was re-usable next week, if youíd picked your ailment carefully enough!

Hmmm. How about promises? An instantly usable high quality, modern business software suite - totally paperclip free, of course - for the Acorn, available right now? So now weíre back to time travel. Or bribery (of users or developers.) Both of which involve an awful lot of money. Time travel needs some serious research, because itíd be pointless going back a bit too far, or not far enough, and after all that work, youíd want a well-protected patent. And bribery, well, once youíve started, you might have to keep going, and the sort of numbers of users weíre talking about, all the cash subtly handed under the table really starts to add up. And, of course, both options might take quite some time to arrange.

So, assuming youíve already spent the last of your hard-earned cash on the Oregano upgrade, or the phone bill from calling Microsoft tech support, what is there left that you can do?

Cartoon - Couple in bed Itís a long shot, but this is the best suggestion Iíve got left. Procreate. Have kids. I mean, if you can be bothered to get married and convert the wife to Acorn use, so much the better, but letís face it, having a child only takes 9 months. You can have lots of them, too, sometimes even more than one at the same time, whereas, legally, youíre only allowed one wife at once. Of course, you could opt for trying to convert each wife to ARM machines, to then leave her pregnant with a new spod, and move on to the next conversion, if thatís your style, but there are some difficulties with that.

Advantages, however, are that you, as the stereotypical geeky male spod, donít have a lot to do with the process for most of the time, leaving you with nine months to wire in babyís own SCSI hard-drive, and be ready to teach it the best computer system in the world. Please be gentle though - give baby a day or two to have stopped blinking at the world before you expect them to be ready for the finer points of TechWriter.

If each spod managed just one a year, and if those future spods all managed to join in - once theyíve reached the age of sixteen, of course - then eventually, the RISC OS platform would rival the evil empireís! Itís a long term plan, but it could work!

No? Back to the TARDIS theory then.

Written by Gill Smith. Published Autumn 2001. Reproduced with permission.
Cartoons © Howard Read Reproduced with permission.