It is no coincidence that whenever Microsoft sets out its plans for world domination, it uses the metaphor of the roadmap to describe how, irrespective of where we really want to go today, the destination will always be the same. But the map is not just a metaphor, it is a product. AutoRoute, the journey planning software acquired by Microsoft a few years ago is an amusing source of diversions (literally as well as metaphorically) but Mole has reason to believe it also holds sinister clues to the Gatesian future. If you consult the latest version, you will find that Bromsgrove, a largish town situated on the M5 between Birmingham and Worcester, has disappeared. The innocent explanation is that this is just another Microsoft product with holes in it, but could there be darker forces at play? According to local historians, Bromsgrove is not famous for very much, but it does have the distinction of being the home of John Illsey, the bassist from Dire Straits. When you know this, all becomes clear. Bromsgrove is not missing, it has been stolen. Mole is not privy to Bill Gates' musical tastes, but it is a safe bet that Dire Straits is high on his list of "cool" bands. One can all too easily imagine Mr Gates rocking to the strains of Sultans of Swing. As it is, Mr Gates is inclined to rock backwards and forward in his chair whether or not there is anything on the record-player, but even he must realise that doing it to music creates a reassuring impression of sanity. As the home of one of his musical heroes and a dullish place to boot, Bromsgrove is just the sort of place Bill Gates would wish to have as part of his empire. Mole has not looked, but he would wager that Bromsgrove has been relocated to the general vicinity of Seattle in the north western United States, to within pizza delivery distance of Microsoft HQ. If this trend continues, we can expect to say goodbye to Watford, Scunthorpe, Luton, Bradford, Hemel Hempstead, Slough, Middlesborough, Preston, Wigan, Newport, Stafford and Milton Keynes as the Microsoft empire of dullness and mediocrity extends like a great grasping arm westwards into the Pacific. You may by now have formed the opinion that the only people interested in the millennium are the builders of domes and those unfortunate enough to work in the computer industry. This is not so. Mole reads with interest a report about applications for trademarks which shows that companies of all kinds are prepared to follow the fine example set by the IT community and milk the year 2000 for all it's worth. For instance, Miller, the brewer of anaemic American "beer" wants to be known as "The official sponsor of the Millennium", and Playboy is angling for the title of official magazine. The US Patent & Trademark Office has so far had 117 applications for "Millennium" trademarks and more than 1,500 for those that use the term "2000". Some of the best are now taken, but there are still a few worth having. Mole notes that no one has snapped up the title "Official sponsor of the Millennium bug" or "Perpetrator of year 2000 chaos". Send your nominations to Mole and he will do his best to pass them on. As the only source of practical and unbiased solutions for millennium related problems, this column is pleased to relate a real-life success story. A North American company, Montgomery Mutual Insurance has come up with a fix estimated to have cut the Millennium bill from $4million to a modest $500,000. It wound back the clock on its mainframe to 1969, a year which shares the same calendar as 1997. Extra software then translates the dates back to their current values so as not to confuse the users. By this simple expedient the company has given itself another 30 years in which to mull over the problem - not that it will ever have to worry about solving it: the mainframe, the machine that caused the problem in the first place, will have been retired long before the deferred Millennium finally arrives. In a story about the sad efforts of the Microsoft refuseniks to fight back, the normally staid Client Server News uses the following rather surprising language. "It's unclear yet whether the anti-Microsoft league has put itself into a situation where this is not only their best shot but their last one. But where, pray tell, do they go if they **** this one up." Experience has taught Mole that there are certain expletives guaranteed to cause offence. Asterisks or not, the word M*cr*s*ft is to be avoided at all costs. If this all seems strange and frightening, take comfort from "Hard Copy - Microsoft Windows strategy & your organisation", a document designed to give customers a glimpse of the future according to Microsoft. Pictured on page four of this forward-looking publication is a bunch of users huddled over DOS screens, an unintentional reminder that the future doesn't always come as fast as Bill Gates would have us believe. Your thoughts on progress and how to prevent it can be sent to Mole at the address above. A copy of Microsoft Exchange (not) to the first 50,000 readers to send in a correct answer to the question: "I've got a software product no one wants, what's the best way to get rid of it?" Mole is here to give publicity to any gossip. To dish the dirt, Email Mole at the above address or phone him on 0171 316 9068.
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