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Jack Schofield, tech journalist and Computer Weekly contributor, dies

In his Computer Weekly articles, Schofield discussed the early success of the web, why the BlackBerry should be waterproof, and how Microsoft overtook IBM

Jack Schofield, former computer editor at The Guardian and a Computer Weekly columnist, has died, aged 72.

The Guardian wrote: “Schofield was taken to hospital following a heart attack on Friday (27 March) night and died on Tuesday (31 March) afternoon.”

In early 2000, Schofield wrote about America Online and its 20 million subscribers. He said that because each account could support up to five people, AOL probably had up to 40-50 million users, which at the time, he said, represented a large slice of the internet.

In his Computer Weekly TechTalk column in 2003, Schofield wrote about Microsoft’s foray into the smartphone market – several years before Apple made the successful breakthrough with the iPhone. At the time, he did not expect the Microsoft device to take off. He wrote: “My recent experience of fliptop phones in South Korea has convinced me that the fliptop is a far superior design. It doubles the surface area available for the user interface, protects the screen, and stops the phone making calls while bouncing around in a pocket.”

While he questioned the benefits of such a device, among Schofield’s predictions in 2003 was that manufacturers would be able to offer their own applications, just as there are applications on PCs – which is exactly what has made iOS and Android successful platforms today. He wrote: “Today’s mobile users are like mainframe terminal users were in the days when dinosaurs ruled the Earth: you get what you are given, like it or lump it, and you pay through the nose. In the future, they could be more like PC users: able to install the applications they want.”

In 2004, he asked: “Why hasn’t Research in Motion produced a waterproof version of the BlackBerry?” And although BlackBerry is no longer the smartphone for business executives, many smartphone makers have, in recent years, finally realised that their customers often drop the expensive device down the toilet, or it falls into the bath. Many devices are now waterproof.

A selection of Jack Schofield’s Computer Weekly articles

  • 2001: Intel and Microsoft are trying hard to generate as much momentum as they can in the consumer electronics market and both fielded top brass – Bill Gates from Microsoft and Intel’s Craig Barrett – at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
  • 2002: There is an 80% probability that Apple Computer will switch to using Intel chips within two to four years, according to Andrew Neff, an analyst at Bear Stearns. It sounds unlikely, but Neff predicted HP buying Compaq, which is perhaps even more insane.
  • 2004: Social sites are now moving into the business world. The basic idea goes back to “six degrees of separation”, which suggests that if you go via friends of friends-of-a-friend, everyone is connected to everyone else by six steps.
  • 2005: “We are not anti-open source,” says Martin Taylor, Microsoft’s general manager of competitive strategy. 
  • 2006: Microsoft is backing a new ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) format, codenamed Origami. If it is successful, it could make mini-tablet PCs popular across a wide spectrum of users.
  • 2007: Many people have the misfortune to use PCs that are years past their sell-by date, and waste far more time than they are worth. However, most PCs can be improved with a few simple changes.

In his TechTalk column in 2008, Schofield wrote about Bill Gates stepping down as the head of Microsoft, and described how the company had replaced IBM in the server room. “People laughed – literally – when I said Windows NT4 could work as a cheap server, but it was not just about code,” he wrote. “Microsoft was heading in the right direction for the IT industry. Intel chips were becoming powerful enough to do serious jobs, and PC economies of scale meant they were much cheaper than minicomputers.

“In-house programming was becoming increasingly expensive, so many IT departments were becoming more receptive to PC-style packaged software, which was far cheaper than the mini and mainframe stuff. Also, as the number of computing tasks continued to grow, integration was becoming increasingly difficult, so Microsoft’s Office-suite approach to server software had a strong appeal.”

In a tribute to Schofield posted on Facebook, tech journalist and former Computer Weekly writer and tech editor Eric Doyle wrote: “A kindly man with a good sense of humour and a friend to many of us whose careers he boosted. Uncle Jack and his pipe were never parted. I was looking forward to seeing him later this month at Absent Scribes (before the lockdown hobbled that idea) – now I’ll look forward to remembering him at the next one.”

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