21st Log: Is Microsoft disinformation rumor bogus?

By Andrew Leonard
Published February 1, 1999 8:00PM (EST)

Is Microsoft disinformation rumor bogus?

Any rumor seems worth passing along these days, as long as it paints Microsoft
in a bad light. Witness the anti-Microsoft grapevine's spirited
transmission of a posting to
ZDNet's "Talkback" claiming that Microsoft managers were encouraging
employees to forge supportive Microsoft postings on Web bulletin boards.

Jamie Love, director of the Ralph Nader-backed Consumer Project on Technology, passed the
link on to his mailing list on Thursday morning, and various Usenet
newsgroups have been spreading the news for two days as well. It's not hard
to see why. According to the poster, who signed her note Michelle Bradley
and said she was a recently "retired" Microsoft employee, "a verbal memo
(no e-mail allowed) was passed around the MS campus encouraging MS
employees" to post on the theme that "MicroSoft is responsible for all good things in computerdom." According to
Bradley, the memo even suggested using fictitious names and identifying
oneself as a student.

As several other posters to Talkback immediately noted, there's no way
to verify "Michelle Bradley's" identity. And while the concept of a
"verbal memo" is plausible in these days of subpoenable office e-mail,
you'd think that a former Microsoft employee would know that Microsoft
doesn't capitalize the "s" in its name. Meanwhile, Heidi Rothauser, a
Microsoft spokeswoman, provided this response: "Microsoft has never had an
employee by the name of Michelle Bradley. We are not aware of any memos
or verbal directives of this nature.
Furthermore, it is against MS policy for any employee to misrepresent
him or herself by e-mail or any other means."

"As you well know," says Rothauser, "Microsoft is a pretty big target
right now."

No argument there. And there are some good reasons for that -- not least
the infamous marketing campaign revealed by the Los Angeles Times last spring
that included plans for an orchestrated campaign of fake pro-Microsoft
letters to the editor. But Microsoft's past probably shouldn't blind us to
the present: It's all too easy to fake anything on the Web, and even
Microsoft deserves the benefit of the doubt every once in a while.

Of course, Michelle, if you are out there, you're welcome to drop
us a line.

-- Andrew

SALON | Feb. 5,

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Windows when-did-you-say-again?

Last spring Microsoft announced that Windows 98 was the end of the road for the original Windows line -- the old nag would be put out to pasture. At some time a year or two after the release of Windows NT 5.0 in 1999, Microsoft would release a consumer version of the more modern, industrial-strength Windows NT system -- one that would run most Windows 95 and 98 programs (as NT now does) but not be dragged down by the decades-old DOS code that still lurks beneath the hood of Wins 95 and 98. Then, last fall, Microsoft announced that Windows NT 5.0, long-delayed but still promised for delivery before the end of 1999, would be renamed Windows 2000.

As if that wasn't confusing enough, now it appears that the promised consumer-oriented version of NT -- er, Win2000 -- will take longer than Microsoft first thought and not arrive until 2002 or 2003. Which means Microsoft may well need to issue one or more updates or upgrades of Windows 98 before retiring the operating system for good.

All of which leaves one to wonder: If a Windows 98 upgrade comes out in 2001, will it be called Windows 2001 -- even though the NT-based Windows 2000 will theoretically be a more advanced system? Or will Microsoft just muddy things further by issuing "Windows 98 2.0"? And how many millions of advertising dollars will the company have to spend to explain itself to a perplexed world?
-- Scott Rosenberg

SALON | Feb. 4, 1999

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eBay's purloined prize for sale -- on eBay

It was one of those spur-of-the-moment decisions. Todd Levin, a columnist for Smug, was attending the Cool Site of the Year awards last month in New York with his zinester friends and bemoaning the commercial hype of the ceremony. So when no one from eBay stood up to accept the "Cool Shopping Site" award the site had just won, Levin decided to take matters into his own hands. Loudly (and profanely) exclaiming his surprise, Levin strode onstage, claimed the Lucite statuette and took it home, with no one the wiser -- at least, no one who would object.

But Levin felt that he hadn't exploited the moment, and regretted not more visibly thumbing his nose at the establishment. He says, "It was a totally juvenile moment, such a small moment, but people were already talking about it after the awards ceremony. And if they were going to talk about it, they might as well have something to talk about."

Thus, Levin decided to auction off the orphaned chunk of Lucite -- on eBay. The auction, which began at $1.69 on Monday, will last for a week. By mid-day Tuesday, the bidding was already up to $93. The auction page, riddled with colorful pictures of Levin mugging with the award, promises to re-engrave the award with the winner's name.

As the gleeful description hawks its product: "Do you want to look like you've actually achieved something with a gen-u-ine a-ward, or do you want to be another sad grown-up with a bunch of stinky Hummel figurines and beanbags sitting around your windowless studio apartment? Fellas: it's a guaranteed social ladder! Ladies: cure those latch-hook blues in a jiffy when you stare into this award's gleaming face! It'll be woo-woo heaven when you cart this prize home from the Postmaster in your dad's jalopy."

And eBay? So far its managers don't appear to have noticed -- either that Levin has absconded with the award, or that it was for sale on their own Web site. Says Levin, "I would imagine that as soon as they do, there won't be an auction anymore."
-- Janelle Brown

SALON | Feb. 3, 1999

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Apache leader joins O'Reilly clan

It's never been a secret that Tim O'Reilly, founder and CEO of the computer book publisher O'Reilly & Associates, is a fan of open-source software. He just edited a special open-source issue of Esther Dyson's influential newsletter Release 1.0. O'Reilly's bread and butter also happens to be, in large part, publishing manuals for open-source stars like the programming language Perl and the Web server program Apache. The company also hired Perl's creator, Larry Wall, simply as an "O'Reilly Fellow" -- just to work on Perl.

But O'Reilly is continuing to put his money where his open-source mouth is. His latest coup is hiring Brian Behlendorf, chief coordinator of the Apache project, to be O'Reilly's new chief technical officer. Apache is a "Web server" program -- it allows users to transform their computers into work stations capable of hosting Web pages. Apache is also one of the first marketplace success stories of the open-source movement: It continues to dominate the field of Web server software, competing directly against Microsoft and Netscape.

Behlendorf is only in his mid-20s, but has quite the illustrious risumi. He was the first technical director for HotWired, then became chief technical officer at Organic Online, one of the earliest high-profile Web production studios. Several months ago, he left Organic to become CTO at C2Net, a company that aimed to specialize in commercial versions of the Apache program.

Behlendorf declined to be specific about his reasons for leaving C2Net, but was effusive about his opportunity at O'Reilly.

"Tim's a great guy," says Behlendorf. "He has a real interest in allowing some extra exploration -- to see if there are any real legs in this open source thing."

Behlendorf says he is going to specialize in the nuts-and-bolts infrastructural tools that allow open-source programming projects to flourish. He'll be working primarily with an eye to Apache, but his innovations should apply to any open-source endeavor.

"[In the past] I've taken together bits and pieces of open-source tools and I tied them together with baling wire and Scotch tape," says Behlendorf. "What I've been wanting to do for a long time, regardless of employment, is to redesign, rearchitect and find better replacements for things."

The open-source world will be certain to take heart in those words. Meanwhile, Tim O'Reilly seems well on his way to creating an open-source powerhouse.
-- Andrew Leonard

SALON | Feb. 2, 1999

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Kinder, gentler Y2K pundits

-- it's not just a geek issue anymore, it's fun for the
whole family! Now that the Millennium Bug is gracing covers of magazines
and TV specials, the Y2K
preparedness movement
is becoming decidedly mainstream. The new faces
of Y2K survivalism are not obscure Net personalities like Ed
or Gary
but decidedly more palatable celebs like Leonard Nimoy and self-made authorities like Dr. Karen Anderson.

Anderson, for example, is a Texas marriage counselor and
self-help author who has decided that Y2K is a gender issue. Y2K for Women is a Web
site, advice board, advertisement and checklist that warns "women only"
(read: wives and mothers) to prepare for the worst.

As she writes, "Most of the current Y2K Web sites are written by men
and (IMO) tend to be focused on how to try and 'fix' the problem -- they
tend to be more analytical and emphasize the 'big picture.' Y2Kwomen doesn't
deal with the technical side of the Y2K problem; my goal is to focus on the
practical side of the problem -- where the rubber meets the road -- and how
this will impact our families and us."

This translates into easy-as-pie explanations of the Millennium Bug,
and soothing answers to questions like "I hate the dark, and the prospect
of not having electricity terrifies me. How can I prepare?" and "What do I
tell the children?" On her preparedness checklist: "Needlepoint (Mesh,
yarn, patterns)," "Maternity clothes" and "Permanent Wave Solution (curlers
and papers)."

Women can also buy Anderson's audiotapes -- "The Busy Woman's Guide to
Preparing for Y2K" -- for a mere $79.

Of course, if the whole family wants to get in on the preparation, you
might want to rent the upcoming video "Y2K Family Survival Guide," starring
"Star Trek" celebrity Nimoy. This "non-sensationalistic video
contains information that may give you and your family the edge to
successfully survive Y2K," according to one review on Amazon.com. But perhaps the reviewer's closing comment best sums up the phenomenon: "It's a
must-see for Leonard Nimoy fans."

-- Janelle Brown

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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