Why is it that the more upright an institution strives to be, the more prone it is to scandal? This phenomenon is observable in government, where messers Aitken and Hamilton provide splendid recent examples, in Catholic schools, where sadistic and sexually deviant monks routinely abuse their pupils, and in the upper reaches of industry, where financial malfeasance and other forms of corruption are commonplace.
Novell hails from Utah, home of the Mormons and one of the most morally retentive states in the union. It is a conservative company, not given to the flamboyance or extravagance of its peers in the IT industry; a company which has always put a premium on hard work, sobriety and family values, and which went about its business with a quiet air of religious fervour under its founder, the rather dour and forbidding Ray Noorda.
Since Mr Noorda's death a few years ago, Novell has visibly lost its edge and the veil of respectability has slipped (developments which may or may not be related).
For some time it has been fighting legal battles with a breakaway group of employees who left to form a rival company selling clustering technology in direct competition with its own. How direct can be judged by the deserters' choice of company name, Wolf Mountain Group, after the Wolf Mountain development programme at Novell. In the story so far, the deserters have been accused of appropriating trade secrets and, in a first round victory for Novell, have been obliged to change the name of their company.
Now one of the staff who left, chief scientist Jeff Merkey, has bowled a googly into the legal process with the accusation that he was driven from Novell not by naked ambition, but by the prospect of a naked colleague, vice president of Internet products Denice Gibson, bearing down on him.
Mr Merkey (delicious name!) complains that Ms Gibson made various unsolicited sexual advances that made his position untenable. Moreover, he claims that top managers, including president Eric Schmidt and former president Joe Marengi, had "knowingly tolerated the retaliation" that followed his rebuffs to Ms Gibson.
Quite why Mr Merkey chose to complain of sexual harassment rather than just lying back and enjoying it is unclear. Perhaps Ms Gibson is old and ugly, or perhaps Mr Merkey has monkish predilections, who knows? But whatever the facts of the case, one thing is for sure; Novell's reputation as a thoroughly boring place to work has been irreparably damaged, which strikes Mole as a jolly good thing.
Following reports that Bill Gates was charging children for the dubious privilege of learning about web development the ActiveX way, the latterday Pied Piper has had a change of heart, cheered perhaps by an American business magazine's league table of the super-rich which charted yet another huge leap in his personal fortune. In "ThinkQuest, An Annual Internet Contest for Students from 12 to 19 Years Old", Microsoft is now paying the kids, with a top prize of $15,000 for the child with the most marketable idea.
With this sort of prize money on offer, the contest is guaranteed to attract herds of impressionable youngsters, looking for cash to fund their computer and drug habits - the makings of another lost generation.
Back in England, Microsoft is buying up whole streets in its campaign to assume global government of the Internet. In a two-page spread in the London Evening Standard we learn that Microsoft has kindly donated Internet equipment and software to every household in an unnamed street in Islington, a development which has apparently revolutionised the lives of the residents.
Despite its obvious lack of news value, the piece runs in the Standard's news pages. Images of greased palms might come to mind were it not for that newspaper's unwavering commitment to covering the stories that really matter.
In a curious footnote to this non-story, at the bottom of the article are the words: "For security reasons, Microsoft has asked us not to reveal the name of the street." Security reasons, what reasons? Mole is so intrigued by this question, that he has resolved to give a bottle of decent champagne or the cash equivalent to the reader who can dream up a single plausible "security reason" for obscuring the street's identity. The winning entry will be the one that persuades Mole that Microsoft's PR haven't made the whole thing up.
To call Microsoft's commitment to Java half-hearted would be to overstate the case by about half. In a recent article in this newspaper, a Microsoft executive, without blushing or even using the word sorry, viciously attacked his own company's implementation of the Java Virtual Machine, best described as a litter tray for Java applications or, to use the abbreviation preferred by some critics, a crap design. One reader, concerned by the far-reaching implications of Microsoft's new-found propensity for self-criticism, wrote the following terse message of complaint: "Demarcation, mate - it's our job to have a go at Microsoft, not theirs. I mean, if they start slagging themselves off what are we going to do?"
If you really want to know what the company thinks of Java, check out the disclaimer in the licence for Internet Explorer. "Java technology is not fault tolerant and is not designed, manufactured, or intended for use or resale as on-line control equipment in hazardous environments requiring fail-safe performance, such as in the operation of nuclear facilities, aircraft navigation or communication systems, air traffic control, direct life support machines, or weapons systems, in which the failure of Java technology could lead directly to death, personal injury, of severe physical or environmental damage."
Not that Microsoft wants to put anyone off, of course.
More from the absurd world of Bill Gates in two weeks time, when Mole will be asking such pertinent questions as what is the Microsoft Network and, more importantly, why is it?
Your contributions on this and other topical matters can be sent to [email protected]
For security reasons, Mole is unable to print a street address.
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