Mole would like to thank the many readers who wrote in to tell him what lies at the end of the trail that begins on row 95 of Excel and ends in the Hall of Tortured Souls. Like many a Microsoft mystery, this one ends in a bitter disappointment: a grainy photograph of the developers responsible for the product and a list of their names. Buried elsewhere in Excel is a secret formula that calculates the amount of time wasted on this puzzle and expresses the answer in terms of the number of bugs that might have been eradicated from the program had its authors not been diverted by silly, self-indulgent games. Also hidden somewhere in the bowels of the program, according to one informant, is a mirror in which a three-dimensional effigy of Bill Gates appears. Mole is sceptical about this claim: the idea of a realistic Mr Gates is simply preposterous. It is not widely known but Bill Gates does not, in fact, exist. He has reached that state known to clinical psychologists as Absolute Programmer, a state in which the phrase "get a life" can be taken quite literally. Undeterred by non-existence, the billionaire genius has a plan. Last week he announced that he had acquired, for an undisclosed sum, the rights to God. Microsoft God will come with a built-in Internet browser to make Him more accessible and this time, faced with the possibility of divine legal representation, Microsoft is not expecting the Department of Justice to put up much of a fight. Promising the product in plenty of time for the millennium, the company has been quick to reassure nervous sinners that its version of God will be "fun, informative, full-featured and intuitive" rather than vengeful. "There will be no second coming," said a company spokesman, "only release two point zero." The MS God campaign, with its catchy slogan "Salvation at your fingertips" is expected to work wonders, if not miracles, on the public perception of Microsoft's founder. During his weekly phone call with Mole, the insubstantial Mr Gates explained: "More people already believe in me than in God and as the credibility of God goes up so too will mine. I think what we're going to see here is incredible growth in the whole faith market that will benefit not just me but all supreme beings. Ultimately, though, what people will want is a single platform, which will be a whole lot better for the consumer and better for the American economy." This, he added, could be achieved by "converging" with God to create MS God Plus for Windows some time within the next couple of years. A quick glance at the handy MS Word thesaurus shows that His Billness has been trading by association on God's image for some time. Enter the word "president" and Word cheekily offers "head" as an alternative - a crude but admirably prescient reference to the Lewinsky affair. Enter Gates, on the other hand, and you get "heaven, presence of God, abode of God, throne of God, kingdom of God, kingdom of heaven, heavenly kingdom, kingdom come". If it is still hard to believe in Bill Gates, perhaps it is because he spends so much of his time justifying himself. Mole has seen a long and boring memo sent to Microsoft staff on 2 February, shortly after the case with the Justice Department was settled. In it Mr Gates goes on at great length about the damage that would be done to mom, her apple pie business and the American way of life in general if Microsoft were to be thwarted by government interference. Squeaking like a defiant mouse, he rails against regulation or other restriction on Microsoft. Publicly Mr Gates is taking a rather more conciliatory stance. A few days before the memo went out, he told a reporter on the Wall Street Journal: "I am the opposite of defiant. I am disappointed. I am humble. I am respectful." Anyone with a beta 3 copy of Windows 98 may suspect that Microsoft's dedication to political correctness has gone too far. During the multimedia demonstration, a manly voice urges the user to "Check out Microsoft Homosexuals, the new expedient, and while you're working let Dilbert's desktop games add some laughter to your day." Not content with the market for major religions, could Microsoft be positioning Windows 98 as the operating system that is simply too, too divine? Sadly, no. What the somewhat adenoidal voice-over actor actually says is "Check out Microsoft Home Essentials ..." Another missed opportunity. Got anything to confess? Contact the Reverend Mole by Email or ring 0171 316 9068 for a one-to-one blessing at very reasonable rates.
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