Excel can't county
The Microsoft Technical Press appears to have added humour to its catalogue.
Microsoft's book publishing arm has just released an amusing little volume entitled Writing Solid Code, which boasts a foreword by the company's director of development, a joker named Dave Moore. The really funny bit is the subtitle: "Microsoft's techniques for developing bug-free C programs".
If you want to know what Microsoft means by bug-free programming, try uninstalling Service Pack 1 from a machine running Internet Explorer 4.0 or the latest version 4.01. In either case, Outlook Express will cease to work, which may be good news for anyone who thought it was a rotten mail package in the first place but is bad news for everyone else.
Another example of solid Microsoft code - that's solid as in difficult to shift - is Windows 98. So high is the public's confidence in Microsoft's ability to write bug-free programs, word has it that retailer PC World is giving away Windows 98 upgrades with Windows 95. Meanwhile, sales of Hewlett-Packard PCs by the retailer are said to have become decidedly sluggish since the company decided to give up on Windows 95 and preinstall Windows 98 on all new machines.
In the unlikely event that the Department of Justice gets its own way and Microsoft is fed to the dogs, the company is going to need plan B.
In January this year someone registered the Internet domain www.nuclearbomb.com.
If this weren't worrying enough, check out the list of name servers for the site: ATBD.MICROSOFT.COM and NS.PARANOID.COM. Time to stock up on tinned foods.
Another of Mole's popular competitions kicks off this week. This one is at the instigation of a reader who recalls the motto of a famous aircraft designer, "Simplify and add more lightness", and wonders if this was the forerunner of the modern corporate mission statement. Armaments manufacturers might prefer "Decimate and add more death", advertising agencies "Exaggerate and add more hype", while Microsoft, the renowned producer of bug-free programs, might opt for "Complicate and add more code". Can PC Week readers come up with any more in the same vein? If so, you know where to send them.
People who work in computers spend an awful lot of time trying to solve problems, but, with the application of a little lateral thinking, the problem can usually be made to go away. The IT department of a county council had been wrestling with two thorny ones: what to do about an overrunning year 2000 project and how to stop a know-it-all 17-year-old trainee from making a nuisance of himself. The latter was solved by assigning the trainee the job of minute-taker for departmental meetings - a piece of brilliant management thinking that accidentally solved the former into the bargain.
Under the heading "Year 2000", the trainee made a single entry: "This has been delayed." The perfect solution. How come it took a spotty teenager to come up with it?
Another splendid example of the denial gambit comes from Barclays Bank.
In the brochure for Barclays' on-line banking service, the bank has come up with a novel way to deal with the objection that transactions could be compromised by breaches in security. Here's a direct quote: "In the past some people had concerns with the security of online services.
That's why both Internet Banking and PC Banking use the latest encryption technology to prevent unauthorised access to your records. Only you can reach your accounts, using a membership number and password unique to you.
For complete security we recommend that you use a PC which is not connected to a network." The internet not a network, eh? Pure genius.
Is Bill Gates getting ideas above his station? Mole only asks because Microsoft appears to have taken upon itself the task of redrawing the map of Northern Ireland, perhaps in the naive hope that if you remove territorial boundaries you remove the basis for nasty political disputes.
The mapping function add-in for Excel is jolly useful until you try to show data by county for Northern Ireland. Showing an admirable disinclination to take sides, Excel refuses to recognise any of the province's six counties.
Sun is among the foremost proponents of the view that software should be platform independent, but an unfortunate thing has happened which threatens to call that philosophy into question. After a recent reorganisation the company published two technical support numbers for Solaris and other software - one which went to its own Enterprise Services personnel, another, for users of Intel hardware, which routed calls to a third-party organisation.
Something happened to the third party, which went out of business or was sacked or something. In any case, BT reassigned the phone number but somehow forgot to tell Sun about it. Customers who call up are getting through to technical support alright, but not at Sun, at Lego. The number has been changed on Sun's Web site but there's not much the company can do about all the printed material that has gone out in shrink-wrapped packaging bearing the number of the Lego hotline.
Problem prising those nasty little flat bits apart? Don't have enough wheels to finish that moon buggy? Don't despair. Call Sun Microsystems and ask to be put through to someone in plastic bricks. For computer-related moans and groans, call Mole on 0171 316 9068 or send him an Email at the address above.
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