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Column Pretty busy week in Blighty. The IT week really kicked off with the Networks Show held in Birmingham. Every year, since it started, British hacks have had a choice of charabancs and chemin-de-fers to take them to the gruesome National Exhibition Centre just outside Birmingham.

But it was Hobson's Choice and Shanks' Pony this year. Compaq usually organises a painless trip from London to Brum for 60 hacks or so, but this year called the whole thing off, leaving the press office looking mighty thin indeed. What, no chance of seeing the Server formerly known as Wildfire?

If Compaq, IBM and Fujitsu Siemens don't think the show is worth the candle, it's bound to pose questions over its likely future. There didn't seem to be many punters punting the halls -- was it a good idea for the organisers to put on the show the day after Glastonbury?

One day on, and we found ourselves with the last company, spinning slowly on British Airways' London Eye, a stylish Ferris Wheel built to mark the year 2000 next to the old County Hall on the South Bank. The whole trip takes around 30 minutes and gives you a good view up and down the Thames and north and south of the City Road. Course, it's a closed pod, so if you want to ask Fujitsu Siemens questions about its strategy, there's no way the suits can escape in a hurry.

After the trip, it was aromatic crispy duck at a post-revolution Chinese restaurant and we had the chance to ask both Fujitsu Siemens and some IDC lads how the hell this company managed to still sell its kit 100 per cent indirect.

Just the day before, we'd noticed that Carly Fiorina's HP had gone and registered some domain names such as HPPCDIRECT.COM and HPPRINTERSDIRECT.COM.

If birds and bees such as Compaq and IBM do it, and even educated fleas, such as Dell, do it, how come Fujitsu Siemens didn't have to do it? The IDC boys reckon that's because the two, between them, own so many patents that the royalty stream buffers them from the slings and arrows of outrageous PC misfortune. Hmm, that can't be the reason, surely?

Later the same day we met up with plucky little Taiwanese chipset firm Via, which against all bets, has seen its share price multiply four times during this year. Over at Computex in Taiwan, it was clear that Via has more opportunities for growth to come. One mobo manufacturer, Abit, told us that originally they'd asked AMD to supply chipsets for the Athlon platform and were told, pretty categorically, that they should use Via instead. No wonder Intel's paranoid about Via.

After dragging Via's Richard Brown to a Chinese restaurant in Gerrard Street (aromatic ducks'r'us), we sat him down in Jeffrey Bernard's old seat (siege perilous) in the Coach and Horses pub in Romilly Street, and tried to pump him for more info. When, for example, will Via bring out chipsets for the notebook and the server market? No answer on this one, but we suspect it's got to be on some secret roadmap over in old Taipei.

Richard was off to the Networks show Thursday, but we were in Voiture Central, attempting to avoid the big play off between Holland and Italy, showing on every TV screen in practically every London boozer. We betook ourselves to the Wheatsheaf in Rathbone Place, and to a drinks gig organised by famous UK spin-outfit Fruitfly, only to be button-holed by stacks of hacks, eager to give their views on Miller Freeman's Gaff of the Week, the publication called Know Your Journalists.

Well, there was a whole heap of hacks and they were hacked off for a whole heap of reasons. One complained bitterly because he was 416th in the list, another moaned because Miller Freeman had given him a positive rating for covering companies he'd never covered, while there were even some bitter and twisty souls who were unhappy because they weren't in the list at all.

"Which story are you talking about?" said one embattled Miller Freeman employee to a hack complaining about diverse matters such as the data protection act, possible defamation, and his position in the pecking order. "It's in The Register," the hack replied. "I've never heard of The Register," says Miller Freeman. "You have now," the hack said.

Dave Evans, the fourth most positive journalist in the UK, and an old Reg drinking partner, took a more philosophical view. "I'm sure I should be taking legal action against someone," he said. "Trouble is, I'm not sure who..." ®

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