No one has uttered a word of protest at Mole's bit on Gary Glitter and PC World, the store that gives "shopping" an extra dimension. No one has objected to the comparison of Bill Gates with Saddam Hussein. Either PC Week's readers are a broad-minded lot or an absence of good taste is no obstacle to a career in IT. But even the most tolerant readers have their limits. When Mole suggested a list of towns Microsoft might like to consider removing from the map he provoked outrage and indignation, and he has been getting Emails and phone calls on the subject ever since. Up and down the country people are angry at the inclusion of their beloved town or city on a list that includes Wigan and Milton Keynes, and are threatening to issue Salman Rushdie style fatwahs if Mole doesn't print a retraction immediately. A gruff fellow from Preston rings to say that if he ever claps eyes on Mole he will set the dogs on him, but only after a suitable period of starvation. Further south, someone calls insisting that Luton is "a very nice place to live", which probably says more about the capacity of human beings for self-delusion than it does about the undiscovered beauty of Bedfordshire. From Bradford, a lady named Julia Parker challenges Mole to see the error of his ways. After a paragraph extolling the city's virtues she writes, "If you care to catch the train and come to Bradford I will show you". Already alarm bells are ringing. This apparently innocent offer may conceal all kinds of danger. It is well known that women of a certain age find moles irresistible. For once placing personal safety ahead of the pursuit of knowledge, Mole politely declines the offer. Like it or not, Microsoft is synonymous with power, influence and success. Even people who have never got within yards of a computer have heard of Bill Gates and Microsoft. Whether they've heard exactly what the company would like them to hear is another matter. Take the following extract from a recent edition of Bracknell News: "We won't win the war on drug barons: anti-drug campaigners facing an imminent rise in cannabis and solvent abuse in Bracknell and Wokingham admit they have to compete against underworld organisations more powerful than Microsoft ...". Powerful but not infallible. We are reminded of this heart warming truth in a report about a break-in at a Microsoft factory in East Kilbride. The CDs stolen from the factory were in "various states of readiness", according to a Microsoft spokesperson. Police say that the chances of tracing the stolen products are remote. "All Microsoft products arrive in various states of readiness. How can customers be expected to tell the stolen ones from the copies that have reached the shops by legitimate means?" said PC Ian Vention, the officer in charge of the investigation. In an advert boasting of its high tech credentials, Cable & Wireless's rhetoric is faultless. "Using some seriously sophisticated technology, backed by complex support systems, we aim quite simply to become the UK's largest combined telephone and cable provider - delivering multi-channel TV, Internet services and next-generation telecoms to homes and businesses throughout the country." Pity about the accompanying Email address, though, which is of the anonymous, old-fashioned and distinctly last generation Compuserve variety. Seriously sophisticated. Microsoft has recognised that excessive greed can be bad for your image, particularly when you happen to be under investigation by the Department of Justice, and deleted a clause in the licence it grants Santa Cruz Operation to sell a version of the Unix operating system with bits of Microsoft code in it. The clause stipulated that SCO would pay Microsoft a royalty for the code, whether or not SCO used it. It would be nice to think that Microsoft took pity on SCO, which had been paying through the nose for 10 years, but it took the threat of action by the European Commission which ruled that the agreement contravened competition laws. In the long and noble history of the error message - a subject Mole touched on last week - the basic technique has stayed the same for years. The otherwise excellent Cobol compiler used on Honeywell mainframes in the early 1970s would occasionally tire of patient explanation and resort to gibberish, such as "this diagnostic is not in the current diagnostic library". Better still is this pair of fine examples from the Uniface 4GL: "This is either a hardware or software error" and "This error should not occur". Ecommerce is the next big thing but what is it? It's an advertising campaign by IBM, the world's former greatest computer company, that's what. Among other things, running an Ecommerce operation means being able to cope with surges in traffic, something you do with scaleable servers, says the ad. Reality is to be found at the Web address printed on the ads, or rather it isn't. Calls to the site have been met with the message: "A connection could not be established with the server." Not scaleable enough or broken? Either way, we learn a thing or two about the perils of combining flashy terminology with flaky technology. Don't try it at home, kids. Send your tales of lawlessness, wrongdoing and plain old fashioned stupidity to Mole by Email or call him on 0171 316 9068.
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