Shut down

When word got out that this would be the last Byte Me column, the accolades from Seattle’s technology elite poured in.

“Frank Catalano is to technology analysis what Madonna is to lust,” opined ZDNet AnchorDesk editorial director Jesse Berst.

“In the vast pantheon of computer columnists, Frank Catalano has made a lasting contribution. Last in taste, last in grammar, last in analysis…” noted the Seattle Times‘ Paul Andrews.

“Without Frank Catalano, who will step forth to provide in-depth reporting, insightful analysis, and cutting commentary on the Battle of Interactive Barbie vs. Interactive Barney?” wondered Adam Engst, founder of the online newsletter TidBITS.

“When they made Frank Catalano, they threw away the mold. Maybe it should have been the other way around,” concluded Michael Finley, “Future Shoes” columnist for Knight-Ridder Newspapers.

And there was the academic perspective, requiring a deep breath and a dictionary: “Only on a few occasions in recent history has our immemorial discipline been regarded with the acute clarity of thought and recondite originality found in Catalano’s serialized treatises. Although many of our earlier savants are now revered for their achievements, historically they were each during their lifetimes rendered perforce as Cassandras to our profession’s then-current Delphic haruspex. Let us then strive emphatically to hold in proper consideration what is before us now, lest we find ourselves regarded by the eyes of future history as merely misguided practitioners preferring familiar darkness over the fulgent light that appeared in our midst,” pontificated Geoff Duncan, TidBITS’ technical editor.

But kind, and occasionally even coherent, words aside, it’s true: After more than four years and 200 columns, Byte Me is at an end. Spawned in the pages of Eastsideweek in 1994, when the mass movement toward consumer and multimedia personal computing was gathering steam, Byte Me’s purpose was to give readers—whether they were in, or simply interested in, the computer industry—perspectives on new trends or unusual developments, conventional wisdom be damned. The column’s longevity, its move to Seattle Weekly, reprints in computer industry trade publications (such as Windows Watcher, Computer Retail Week, ClickZ, and Inside Multimedia in the UK), and a stray award in 1995 seemed to affirm that approach. The regular weekly checks from my editor, of course, were a nice plus.

Though my weekends are now free for pursuit of a life, I still feel there is unfinished business. There are essays I wish I’d been able to write—but reality intervened. Among them:

Net profit: Internet firms, after laboriously examining how companies are run in other industries, suddenly have an epiphany: Success should be measured by building products people want and becoming profitable, not just by going public or selling out to a bigger fish. Industry financial publication The Red Herring, which in July listed its top entrepreneurs and lauded many favorites with “successful IPO” (yet not once wrote “turned a profit”), subsequently goes out of business.

MOTHER OF ALL MICROSOFTS: Microsoft’s operating system division finally gets serious about cleaning up its image, and realizes that while it is not willing to admit to any legal lapses, there were occasional ethical lapses, real or perceived, in its business practices. The position of chief ethical officer is created and after a lengthy search, Mother Theresa is named to the post. Unfortunately, by this time, she’s dead.

NO JOKE: Congress, petitioned by large corporations, Internet service providers, and the Redmond Chamber of Commerce, bans unsolicited bulk humor e-mail from the Net. Complainants cite the amount of time it takes to hit the delete key, filled-to-capacity mail servers, bandwidth limitations, and confusion over whether or not something is actually a joke. “It is more insidious in clogging the Net than unsolicited commercial e-mail, and frequently just as funny,” charged Sen. Slade Gorton (R-Microsoft).

DILUTED SOLUTION: Consumers, suffering repeated disappointments after being taken in by the hype over Windows 95/98, Intel Inside, and the Pamela Anderson Lee video on, quit believing that computers and the Internet are some kind of God-like, omnipotent solution and begin to treat them as just a tool. GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out) is revived, this time as a rallying cry for the Digital Reality movement, which seeks to remove computing technology from its pedestal at the heart of the world’s economic, social, and political structures. Computers and the Internet, in retaliation, move the millennium to 1999.

Farfetched? No more so than any of the real headlines and stories that have been published in the 20-year history of personal computing and the five-year life of the World Wide Web. Imagine: America Online becomes the leading Internet service provider, Steve Jobs returns to run Apple Computer, and Microsoft takes an interest in the home mortgage business.

And for those who don’t care for this kind of speculation, I say with total, heartfelt irreverence—Byte Me.

Frank Catalano, a Seattle-area analyst for computer industry companies and the co-author of Marketing Online for Dummies, can be reached at Frank will maintain the Byte Me archives at, and occasionally appear in Seattle Weekly. Personal thanks to Ellen Le Vita, Nina Davis, the Pastor in Waiting, and others (who know who they are) for unflinchingly offering valuable—if sometimes irritating—feedback on dozens of columns, and to professional editors John Wilson, Helen Gould, Priscilla Turner, Elisa Murray, Skip Berger, Fred Moody, and Sunny Parsons, without whom his weekends would have been free.