Even then, there were already scores of other Billy Nuggets using Hotmail, but I just happened to sign up at the precise moment the original Billy Nugget either decided not to use Hotmail any more and cancelled his account, or died in a freak dog grooming accident. As I'm sure you can understand, I was very pleased about this fortuitous turn of events (fortuitous for me, that is, not necessarily for Mr Nugget). Partly for convenience sake, and partly because I couldn't bear the thought of giving up something so easy to remember, I kept hold of this holy grail of email addresses, and in the intervening years have become well acquainted with the idiosyncracies of Hotmail's service, of which there are many.
For example, allow me to introduce those of you who are not familiar with Hotmail to its 'Contacts' feature:
Like other free email accounts (and indeed mobile phones. And indeed, er, address books), Hotmail allows you to store your friends' / colleagues' / acquaintances' / stalkers' contact details alphabetically. Should you happen to email someone you have not emailed before, or should someone non-suspicious happen to email you, Hotmail will even ask if you would like to add that person's name and details to your contact list. So far so good, and after more than a decade with Hotmail, I now have getting on for two hundred contacts, some of whom I email regularly, some occasionally, and some I will probably never have reason to email again for the rest of my natural life.
Anyway, let's assume I want to send an email to one of those occasionals; one of the people whose email address - and this is a key point - I don't happen to know off the top of my head. As usual, I click on the 'New' option on my Hotmail page and a blank email appears. In the 'To:' box, I begin to type my friend's name - once again, and purely for illustrative purposes, let's call him Harry Pratt. Almost instantaneously, a drop-down menu appears listing everyone on my contacts list whose email address begins with an H: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, and so on and so forth. The trouble is, now that I come to think of it, Harry is a bit of a joker, so rather than firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or even firstname.lastname@example.org, his email address begins with crazyharry or bonkersharry or madcappratt or something similarly 'hilarious'.
Now you would think, wouldn't you, that the whole point of a contact list - particularly the contact list for an email account - would be to allow the user to quickly access his or her friends' email addresses merely via the use of their christian name or surname. As anyone with any sense will tell you, it's far easier to remember a couple of key words like, say, 'Harry' or 'Pratt' than it is to remember something far longer and more complicated, like email@example.com, for example. The mind-bogglingly infuriating thing about the Hotmail contact list, however, is that even though Harry's email address is stored along with his name therein, it is not possible to access that name at the precise moment you need to do so. In other words, the drop-down menu that automatically appears when you begin to type in the 'To:' box is not a list of your friends' names that start with that letter, but merely a list of the email addresses on your contact list that start with that letter, which two things, as we've already discussed, have no intrinsic connection.
What I actually have to do in order to get Harry's email address into the 'To:' box of the aforementioned email is to:
1) Save a draft of the email
2) Go to my contact list
3) Go to the H section of my contact list
4) Find the name 'Harry Pratt' halfway down the page
5) Click on said name
6) When Harry's contact details appear, manually copy his email address [my italics]
7) Go back to my inbox
8) Go to my drafts folder
9) Click on the drafted email
10) Paste Harry's email address into the 'To:' box
Now if you'll just excuse me, I need to pause for a moment and use some punctuation:
Call me a remorseless pedant if you like, but surely, after well over a decade of running what is still one of the most utilised email services in the world, the good people at MSN might have figured out that this small but significant glitch in their system could do with being fixed. More to the point, they have probably received complaints numbering in the tens of millions from disgruntled and remorseless pedants like myself: enough complaints, in fact, to make them realise that perhaps the time may have come to sort things out.
One of the obituaries for the recently deceased Steve Jobs claimed that he had a reputation for prioritising 'form over function', but whoever wrote this had clearly never used a single Apple product. Sure, I have had my fair share of problems with the various Macs I have owned - malfunctioning CD drives, crashed hard drives, dodgy keyboards etc. - but that never stopped them from a) looking good and b) being easy to use. PCs, on the other hand, a) look ugly and b) are not easy to use, and for this, Mr Jobs deserves at least a modicum of retrospective credit.
So what does this all have to do with Japan, I hear you ask? Not much really, except to say that had Bill Gates been born Japanese, PC and Windows users might all be a lot more satisfied with their Microsoft product user experience, and I might more readily be able to access the email addresses of my contacts, thus allowing me to waste even more of my time on Facebook, Twitter and Badass of the Week.