This Site Will Self Destruct ...
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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 30 May 96 13:56:15 -0700
Subject: This Site Will Self Destruct ...
Forwarded-by: Keith Bostic <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Forwarded-by: Wendell Craig Baker <email@example.com>
This Site Will Self Destruct in Five Seconds
by Geoff Duncan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
At an earlier stage in my life, I thought it would be great to be a film
critic. I'd attend press screenings of new movies, then publish my
opinion about them. I gave up on the idea: I don't actually know very
much about movies, and as I got older I came to appreciate the
difference between informed and uninformed opinion.
Then, a little over two weeks ago, I received mail about Apple's Web
site tie-in with the latest Tom Cruise vehicle, Mission: Impossible.
I didn't pay attention until I saw Apple television commercials
promoting the site, liberally sprinkled with bits of movie trailer,
Apple hardware, and URLs. "After you see the movie, you'll want to buy
the book." A PowerBook, get it? I looked at that mail again. Then I
looked at the Web site.
Normally, I resist the temptation to use TidBITS as a soapbox , but in
this case I'm going to make an exception. I might not be able to give
an informed opinion about movies, but I think I can say a word or two
about Web sites.
**Cruisin' For A Bruisin'** -- One of the most egregious sins a
movie reviewer can commit is revealing too much of the plot. For many
readers, this spoils the film. I'm going to take that chance here and
tell you exactly what happens.
When you connect to Apple's Mission: Impossible Web site, you're greeted
by typical promotional graphics. At this point, the Web site seems to
turn into a choose-your-own-adventure arcade game. I followed the
following plot threads.
* I load the site in Netscape 2.02. The graphics load, then the
RealAudio plug-in crashes my machine. Strike one.
* I load the site using Internet Explorer 2.01. The site tells me
it works best in Netscape, but I _must_ obtain a MIDI plug-in from
LiveUpdate called Crescendo PLUS, along with Macromedia's Shockwave. I
download and install Shockwave (20 minutes), but can't access to
Crescendo. I try again two hours later and still can't get through.
* I uninstall the RealAudio plug in, then try again with Netscape
2.02. There's no audio, but Netscape doesn't crash. I get a special
message: "You've proven yourself to be an advanced agent by equipping
yourself with Netscape Navigator. Your mission will be substantially
enhanced compared to other agents." Neat - I always knew I was special!
But now I need _four_ plug-ins: the new ones are RealAudio and QuickTime
VR. But QuickTime VR isn't a plug-in, it's a helper application. And I
had RealAudio, but it crashed. I don't feel substantially enhanced, but
click the "Start Mission" button. Netscape crashes; game over.
**Crying U.N.C.L.E.** -- At this point I think I'm beginning to
understand where the name "Mission: Impossible" came from. But I'm still
inspired by memories of the long-running television series. When I was
a kid, Mission: Impossible was one of two television shows I wasn't
allowed to watch. (The other was Space: 1999; ironically, both starred
Martin Landau). I'd sneak over to a friend's house to watch syndicated
episodes of Mission: Impossible. Although I'm sure most of the Cold
War plots were beyond my comprehension, I soaked up the gadgets and the
gallant teamwork of the show's secret agents. Now, even though I don't
have the most modern Mac available (a Quadra 650), it's system is
current and clean and my plug-ins are up-to-date. There's no reason this
shouldn't work, so I figured I'd give Apple another try.
So the next day I downloaded Netscape's Atlas 3.0b4 release, installed
all the plug-ins (even Crescendo PLUS, which I was able to download this
time), gave Netscape 16 MB of RAM and tried again.
* I connect to the site and get a RealAudio error saying that the
site is not responding, but Netscape doesn't crash. I connect to another
RealAudio site to verify the RealAudio plug-in is working (it is), then
I re-connect to Apple's site. I get the same error, but I press on.
* I'm allowed to sign into the site. Apple is collecting contact
information to sign users up for a contest; apparently the top prize is
a PowerBook 5300 actually used by Tom Cruise in the movie. The site will
not let me proceed unless I provide contact information. I use an alias;
if Clark Kent wins a PowerBook 5300, I will be upset.
* Netscape begins downloading a 387K file, presumably a Shockwave
presentation. I wait three minutes while the file downloads, and I'm
presented with a blinking graphic: "Proceed with Mission Briefing." I
click it, and the 387K file begins downloading again. I wait three more
minutes. A dialog appears: "Error loading Director movie (10000)." I
click the OK button, (since there's no other choice) and Netscape
crashes, taking my Macintosh out with it.
**Disavowing Any Knowledge** -- I'm sure Apple spent a lot of
money setting up and promoting this site - the television commercials
alone attest to that. It doesn't appear to be something Apple (or a
contractor) whipped up overnight and forgot to test. I have to assume
the site is being presented as intended.
If this site represents Apple, then someone at Apple is clearly missing
the point of the Internet, and the Web in particular. Building and
promoting a site based on unstable tools is more than chancy: it's
irresponsible. Online publishing is about providing scalable content,
and the point is to get that content to users in whatever form is most
appropriate. By setting a threshold higher than many Apple customers
(and potential customers) can reach, Apple not only limits its message
but looks incompetent in a very public way.
It's ironic that the most representative portion of Apple's Mission:
Impossible Web site is in its section on prizes and rules, which says,
in part, "Apple Computer, Inc. does not assume the responsibility for
phone, technical, network, electronic, computer, hardware or software
failures of any kind." Fans of Mission: Impossible will note that
language sounds remarkably like a mission briefing, wherein "the
Secretary" will deny all knowledge of an agent's actions in the event
the agent is killed or captured.
Apple tells us to expect the impossible; clearly, someone at Apple
This article reprinted in full from TidBITS#330/27-May-96
© 1996 Peter Langston