The year 2000 problem may have grabbed all the headlines, but it's not the only numbers game in town. For some time now, analysts in the US have been predicting meltdown for the stock exchange if the Dow Jones index ever rises above 10,000. This latest threat to the survival of capitalism is not about economics but about electronics: many of the computers used in the financial markets are unable to deal with the Dow in more than four digits. As ever, the industry responsible for the ensuing chaos and misery will also get to benefit from it, and various experts - unkindly described in one report as "the usual parade of opportunists" - are busy rubbing their hands at the prospect of another rich source of consultancy fees. They're already calling it the D10K problem.
Microsoft, as usual, is a little behind the game. Customers are asking how much faith they can put in the company to solve the millennium problem when, with just two years of the century to go, it is still struggling to come to terms with the 1900s. Visitors to the Microsoft Year 2000 Web site who have used the "Email this story to a friend" facility, have noticed that some of the resulting messages are dated in the 1980s. Anyone interested in downloading Microsoft's year 2000 compliance statement can find it at the same address.
If it's a real shambles you're interested in, look no further than Adobe, the company that just can't be bothered to tell you which of its products is year 2000 compliant and which is likely to resort to a Microsoft-like state of confusion when it comes to the crunch.
Asked how to tell the difference by an irate customer in a discussion forum on its Web site, Adobe replied that, given the number of products it offers over a range of platforms, "even we sometimes have trouble keeping track of them all". Fair enough, but for those customers who really would like to know what's what and what's not for the year 2000, what help can Adobe offer? "It is almost impossible for us to efficiently keep an updated chart listing all the current versions of all our products," the company says in its official statement, before going back to sleep.
It's good to know that the secret police force of the world's number one super-power, the amusingly named Central Intelligence Agency, is on the ball. In an urgent bulletin issued last week we learn that the CIA has uncovered a grave new threat to civilisation. "The US Central Intelligence Agency warned yesterday of possible widespread disruptions in basic services around the world due to computers not being able to handle internal calculations upon the arrival of the year 2000." Finally, before we leave this important but fundamentally dull subject, a tip for the Justice Department: if you want to make a case against Microsoft, concentrate on the evidence not the witnesses. Dating errors produced by the Find command in Windows 95 are explained by an error message which states that: "installing Microsoft Internet Explorer 4.0 or later will resolve this issue." It's tantamount to claiming that the operating system won't work properly without the assistance of the browser, but because that would point to flagrantly anti-competitive behaviour on Microsoft's part, Mole can only conclude that there must be another, quite innocent, explanation.
Representatives of a company calling itself City Financial Partners Limited have been making a nuisance of themselves on the telephone. IT professionals appear to have been singled out for the particular attention of this odious organisation, whose sales staff use a variety of deceptions to get through to prospects who have already told them two, three or 17 times in no uncertain terms that they should go straight to hell and stay there until the burning sensation subsides - preferably a little longer. Any organisations plagued by these persistent oiks are invited to write with a succinct account of their experiences to Mole who will pass it to the appropriate regulator.
The IT industry offers few opportunities for scatological humour so Mole is grateful to Microsoft for the following advice in an administrators' guide to SQL Server: "it is important to create dump devices and then perform regular backups to those dump devices." If it's a regular dump you want, then Microsoft is the company for you.
It is well known that the heads of IT firms are out of touch with reality, a truism nicely illustrated by Bill Gates' purchase last week of a third-rate painting by an American artist for $30 million. The enormous sum paid for this daub, called "Lost on the Grand Banks" by a non-entity named Winslow Homer, beat the previous record for an American painting at auction by more than $10 million.
Gates isn't the only captain of industry currently exhibiting signs of mild insanity. At CA World last month, Charles Wang, Computer Associates' chief executive, described John Major as "an inspiring leader who brought the UK to new heights of economic prosperity".
This John Major is unfamiliar to Mole. Perhaps, like Mr Gates and Mr Wang, he comes from a galaxy far, far away.
You would need to travel several million light years further than that to run into Scott McNealy. President of Sun Microsystems and third or fourth in line to the title Supreme Ruler of the Universe, Mr McNealy has made brave efforts to hide his disappointment at the slow or even possibly no sales of the so-called network computer, the device conceived to propel Sun to the forefront of the desktop computer market. In a recent interview he told the Wall Street Journal: "Go ahead and write that the network computer is dead. If I can scare everybody else away, we'll own the market." King Lear's "Nothing will come of nothing" speech comes to mind, but perhaps Mr McNealy is unfamiliar with Shakespeare. In any case, it's a safe bet that his scare tactics have worked. No one else seems remotely interested in the network computer.
Rumour, gossip and industry trivia can be entrusted to Mole at the above address. Write soon to avoid disappointment.
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