It is not easy to be unfair to Microsoft and even harder to feel guilty about it, but for once Mole may have presented the company in a worse light than it deserves. The tale of Californian company Micro Star, which was obliged to change its name after Microsoft apparently warned it off, looks like a classic case of the big kid stealing the little kid's sandwiches in the playground. Several readers remember Micro Star, now trading as CrystalVision, a little differently. The company was more than happy to let prospective customers labour under the illusion that it had something to do with Microsoft, a position made all the more convincing by its clever tactic of sending out CDs full of dud software, thus emulating the behaviour at the heart of Microsoft's commercial success. The poor saps gulled in to paying for this stuff twig soon enough and usually cancel their orders.
The staff who answer the phones at the credit card companies sigh wearily when you mention the Micro Star name and are not at all surprised by requests to stop payments.
There is something seriously wrong with any company which would pass itself off as Microsoft. Rather like earning a living as a Jeffrey Archer impersonator, any opportunity for gain is offset by the prospect of universal unpopularity.
Mole also feels compelled to apologise for Microsoft for his unsympathetic reporting of the Department of Justice (DoJ) investigation. Despite the appearance of arrogant insouciance in the face of grave danger, Microsoft was far from confident that the cards would turn in its favour.
A few weeks ago, after Microsoft had wriggled free of the DoJ's gums, the Los Angeles Times uncovered evidence of a secret plan to launch a PR offensive to repair the damage done to the company's image by the affair.
The plan outlined activities of a kind which point to a more than usual disregard on the company's part for ethics. The Times said it had seen internal documents advocating "the planting of articles, letters to the editor and opinion pieces to be commissioned by Microsoft's top media handlers but presented by local firms as spontaneous testimonials." Critical to the plan's success would be that it was not to be seen as Microsoft's handiwork , but the result of an unsolicited "grass-roots eruption of support", as the newspaper put it.
The main targets of the PR onslaught were to be the attorney generals and leading politicians in a dozen states thought to be considering anti-trust action against Microsoft, and the company was ready to engage as many PR firms with strong political connections in the states concerned.
Confronted with the story, officials at Microsoft and Edelman Public Relations, the agency it routinely relies upon to do its dirty work, at first appeared to suffering from amnesia, or a shortage of the substance, sometimes called moral fibre, which promotes qualities like honesty and integrity in human beings.
Microsoft spokesman Greg Shaw couldn't recall any plan, even though many of the documents setting it out bore his name. "I'm not sure what it is," he said. Later Mr Shaw acknowledged the plan's existence but said it was "not something we're moving on," a claim that was flatly contradicted by Microsoft's co-conspirators, one of whom called it a "done deal".
Having its secret offensive exposed is doubly bad news for Microsoft.
State officials already unfavourably disposed to Microsoft are now spoiling for a fight. An unnamed attorney advised Bill Gates not to come out of his corner. "When it comes to knowledge of computer technology, I take my hat off to Mr. Gates," he said. "But if he wants to enter the field of political intrigue, I say welcome to my world, Mr. Gates, I'm ready to do battle."
Keen to promote an eruption of popular support in the field of entertainment, Microsoft has announced that it will collaborate with the producers of Baywatch to develop an interactive version of the programme. Quite what the word "interactive" means in this context has not been explained. Nor does Microsoft go into detail about the "Baywatch-related merchandise" due to go on sale.
Mole has been so carried away by the enthusiasm for so-called Ecommerce promoted by the likes of IBM, that he is considering investing his savings in an ambitious Web site from which to broaden his trade in tittle-tattle.
He has been advised that it is not possible to make it as a virtual entrepreneur without investing in powerful machines, databases, Web servers and all the accompanying paraphernalia. A friend has recommended Oracle as a wholly reliable supplier of the relevant software. But being a cautious fellow when it comes to the deployment of his own money, Mole would like to hear from delighted customers that Oracle delivers what it says it will in the area of, say web servers. Nothing less than a grass-roots eruption of support will do.
Mole is accosted on Waterloo station by a shaven headed youth and prepares for the worst. The youth does not demand money, but thrusts a leaflet into Mole's paw. It's from the Midland Bank and says "we want ambitious problem solvers to take our Information Technology into the next millennium".
The plain English translation might read: "Help! Only 19 months to go."
Millennium problems have come early for the London Underground. Rumours reach Mole that the software that controls the automatic gates on Underground stations is so badly bodged that it is showing signs of failure already.
If you happen to possess a season ticket from 1996, you may find it still works in the machines - the result of a year 2000-like rollover that occurs when the period of expiry passes a certain point. London Underground would rather no one knew about this problem. Mole certainly won't be telling anyone and would ask readers to do the same and respect the company's desire to keep it a secret.
If you have something you don't want people to know, send it to Mole for safe-keeping. Email messages to the address above, phone calls to 0171 316 9068.
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