Fun_People Archive
30 May
This Site Will Self Destruct ...

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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Thu, 30 May 96 13:56:15 -0700
To: Fun_People
Subject: This Site Will Self Destruct ...

Forwarded-by: Keith Bostic <>
Forwarded-by: Wendell Craig Baker <>

This Site Will Self Destruct in Five Seconds
  by Geoff Duncan <>

  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.
  Strike two.

* 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

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