A publisher of PC Week once asked Mole why so much of his column was taken up with Microsoft. "What would you write about?" countered Mole, pointing out that where the computer industry had once been populated by giants, now it was peopled with surly, insignificant dwarves consumed by their own bile and united only in hatred of Microsoft and all its works.
Like the page three girl and other low-brow concerns of The Sun newspaper, Bill Gates inspires a mixture of fascination and loathing which attracts a crowd of onlookers every bit as much as a road accident.
Besides, Mole is hardly a lone voice in the wilderness. There are legions of other critics, by no means all of them members of the fourth estate.
Intel has just sacked two engineers who left a cheeky message etched on the surface of a certain model of the Pentium microprocessor. The message, visible only with the aid of a powerful microscope, reads simply "bill sux". (If you want to see for yourself, don't take your PC apart, go to www.idt.mdh.se/kpt/billsux.jpg.) The incident was highly embarrassing for Intel, which likes to think of itself as Microsoft's chief lickspittle.
It also raises two interesting questions: why did the engineers do it; and how were they found out?
The second of these questions remains unanswered. Perhaps the perpetrators boasted to slimy colleagues who turned them in. More plausibly, the deeply paranoid Mr Gates, who is known recently to have acquired a scanning electron microscope to check up on just this sort of thing, made the discovery himself. We may never know.
As to the first question, the answer is to be found in a Finnish newsgroup where someone has posted the following extract from a Microsoft publicity statement. It reads: "Microsoft ships Internet Explorer 2.0, bringing ease of use, performance and excitement to the Macintosh platform."
The connection is not immediately apparent, but one of the few known facts about the former Intel men is that, before coming to Intel, both had worked for Motorola on the microprocessor used in the Mac. Could it be that the engineers had seen Microsoft's claims for Explorer and it tipped them over the edge?
No doubt other Macintosh fans will be flocking to Redmond to thank Mr Gates personally for bringing the qualities described above to a notoriously difficult, sluggardly and dull computer. Anyone wracking their brains for a suitable gift might consider a cream pie, as Mr Gates was spotted enjoying one on a recent trip to Belgium.
Signs of dissent have also been spotted closer to home. One can only wonder what retribution will befall the Microsoft programmer who spiked the Word 97 thesaurus. If you reset your PC to US English (you can do this in the tools menu under ilanguage") and enter "I'd like to see Bill Gates dead," the thesaurus suggests the expression you may be seeking is "I'll drink to that". Whoever did this terrible and irresponsible thing should be ashamed of themselves. No one should wish Mr Gates dead: who knows what he'd get up to?
Without wishing to dwell on the idea, if anything did happen to Mr Gates and Microsoft fell apart, as it surely would, who would replace the company as the industry's bete noire? Intel has certainly got the right credentials.
As part of the Intel Inside advertising campaign, it has offered to pay PC makers three-quarters of the cost of the ads they run on the Internet, but only if they place their puffs on processor-gobbling web sites stuffed with complex graphics, Java applets and other bits and pieces that make life fun for the developer but hell for the user. According to Intel the idea is to show off the capabilities of its latest Pentia, but to Mole's way of thinking it is as if a motor dealer were to fill the back of your car with bags of cement to persuade you to buy a more powerful model.
Nobody finds it odd anymore that you should believe one thing and do another. There are many admirers of Microsoft who find themselves in awe of the company's business acumen, but remain level-headed enough never actually to use any of its products.
Take for example the proprietors of www.winfiles.com, a repository for Windows related shareware, fixes and enhancements. Windows may be good enough for the punters, but the experts have sensibly chosen Unix as the operating system and Apache as the Web server on which to run their site.
If only such wise counsels prevailed at MI5. On the MI5 Web site (www.mi5.gov.uk) the spooks are advertising for individuals with IT skills, but only those versed in NT. A vision in blue arises before Mole's eyes: "Sorry, the intelligence network is currently unavailable ..." Once all the intelligence officers have been killed by alien invaders, it will be left to handful of techies who run the MI5 Web servers to step into the breach. Their boxes are the last enclave of Unix and commonsense in the service.
A chap who phoned Microsoft's technical support last Monday was greeted by a recorded message explaining that, as a result of the Bank Holiday, no one was available to answer the phone. An operator blamed the premature announcement on a glitch in the company's phone system. Unlikely as it may seem, Microsoft must be using Windows 98 to run its switchboard, for as Mole reported a few weeks ago, the calendar in the operating system firmly believes the holiday fell a week early on the 24th. At least Microsoft has the courage of its convictions and is happy to use its own products for critical applications. What a pity they don't work a bit better.
The silly season is over, PC Week is back on its regular weekly schedule and Mole needs your input. Write to the usual Email address.
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