At last, Asia Online gets something right . . . its own epitaph

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 October, 2001, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 October, 2001, 12:00am

After eight years - or three, if you believe the marketing blurb - tens of thousands of former Asia Online staffers and customers can at last sit back and say: 'I told you so.'

With administrators in the building and regional operations being dumped on the market at bargain prices, Asia Online looks as though it has at last met its inevitable end.

In the past few years, the company has developed an unrivalled reputation for reinvention. Each new round of investment saw it re-style itself - trying dial-up access provision, online financial services, schools networking, Asian Web community, Chinese portal, shopping mall, financial portal, application services provider, content provider, incubator, Web developer and enterprise services.

Management opened (and closed) offices from Taiwan to Toronto and spent about US$135 million and almost as many staff.

In its abandoned Nasdaq listing application last year, the company admitted that 'we have a history of losses. We expect to incur significant losses in the future as we expand our operations and we may never achieve profitability'.

For once in its history, Asia Online got it right.

The Chinese language versions of Windows XP, mankind's greatest technological innovation since macaroni, will finally hit Hong Kong stores this week.

Newspapers around the globe gushed over XP's thousands of innovative features - it can play digital music, edit video files, store data online, protect you from viruses, search the Internet, chat online and even play computer games.

Naturally, grumpy competitors, who have been offering these features for years, have complained they would all suffer the same fate as everyone else who ever had an idea that the Seattle serpent took a fancy to.

Speaking to Associated Press, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates wheeled out one of his favourite metaphors: 'Why are there headlights in cars? Why don't they make you go and buy those things separately?'

He has obviously forgotten 'If Microsoft made cars . . .' - one of the oldest and most widespread jokes on the Web.

The fact is that no matter which car you drive, you can take it out on any road, buy petrol from any pump, visit whatever destination you like, listen to any radio station, call your friends with whatever phone you choose. And you can cross borders without needing a General Motors passport.

After spending US$250 million on marketing, Microsoft chose last week to boot non-Explorer users off its Web site. Just days before the launch, Opera and Mozilla users found themselves refused entry to Microsoft's Web site.

Blaming rival browsers for not supporting the XHTML standard, the site instead asked visitors to download Explorer.

Opera was not impressed. Chief executive Jon von Tetzchner issued a press release defending his product for its compliance with international Internet standards and pointed to the World Wide Web Consortium's standards validator (, which showed that Microsoft's own pages seemed to be illegible.

'Maybe Microsoft should take a look at its lack of respect for the World Wide Web Consortium's (W3C) international Internet standards before bad-mouthing others,' he said.

The sites are now back online.

Since September 11, every imaginable Afghan and Taleban Internet domain has been registered. Now, with nearly all Afghan Web sites taken offline by governments or nervous Internet service providers, the few legitimate Afghan domains are starting to lapse.

First to go was the Taleban's New York office, whose domain expired on October 12. As Backspace reader David Webb pointed out, this would be 'kind of a metaphor for events in Afghanistan'.

Meanwhile appears to have been squatted already, while the former official Afghan government Web site at also is offline. Neither will be up for grabs until early next year.

The Internet's sordid reputation slipped further last week with the opening of a vast vault of some of the most disturbing texts yet found online.

The estate of the late Barbara Cartland has put her collected works on the Web.

For anyone who might have missed her, Barbara Cartland, who died last year at a very pink and fluffy 98, was the world's most prolific author and the self-styled Queen of Mush . . . sorry, The Queen of Romance.

Over the course of her 78-year career, Miss Cartland managed to crank out more than 720 books, most of which involved shy young things being rescued from cunning bounders by dashing heroes, with never a hint of hanky-panky.

Who could forget her Asian classics Sapphires in Siam, An Icicle in India or Paradise in Penang? Or better still, Heaven in Hong Kong and The Prince and the Pekingese? Is it any wonder she managed to sell over a billion books?

On top of all that, another 160 unpublished works have turned up since her death.

And with the launch of the Barbara Cartland Audio Book Club, you get the chance to hear them all.

For the none-too low price of GBP90 (about HK$100), club members can download 12 MP3 audio books a year from the official site ( So hurry. At that rate, it will take you 60 years to get through them.