NOTES FROM THE FIELD: Like shuffling deck chairs

NOTES FROM THE FIELD: Like shuffling deck chairs

If you compared the stock market to a ship lately, it might be called the Titanic. Yet even in the wake of disaster, vendors and spenders alike showed up this year for Spring Internet World.

Under the pall of Los Angeles smog, the Internet faithful - from those wearing pocket protectors to the terminally fashionable LA types - were offering details of revised strategies and even launching new companies.

Randi stayed at home again. "I can't take the pedicure pressure," she said, perhaps referring to the fashionable crowd. "All those strappy sandals," she added, as if that explained it all.

La Femme Nikita

Known for his wonderment at the idea of the convergence of many forms of media in the new age of the Internet, USA Networks chairman and CEO Barry Diller delivered one of the show's first keynotes.

Later, Diller was asked the typical business and tech-industry questions: his thoughts on Napster, the AOL/Time Warner merger, and so on. The one that brought giggles from the audience came from a guy who said he was an independent journalist. He wanted to know whether the series La Femme Nikita was really over and if there would be a TV movie. Like the dot-coms that went away before it, La Femme Nikita couldn't make enough money to pay for its production, Diller said.

Perhaps Diller and the dot-coms that are hanging on by a thread should try the strategy that's currently in place at MCI WorldCom. Apparently the company is having trouble crediting payments to customer accounts. The past-due amount for several accounts has been steadily growing month by month - regardless of whether the payment happened. A customer service representative let it slide to one annoyed user that lots of people were having the same problem.

That's one way to make some extra bucks in the new New Economy. It's not what you make, it's what you keep that counts.

As if preparing your taxes wasn't already enough of a struggle, requiring much aspirin washed down with something stronger, now there may be another problem with TurboTax. I've already abandoned this software because it is easier to figure the taxes myself than to use the complicated steps required for the state-software rebate. But one poor soul reports that after spending three hours inputting information, he ran the final check. The program performed an illegal operation, and he lost it all. Anyone else have this problem with Intuit's tax software?

Relaxing in Redmond

In spite of the tough economy and its usual compulsion to introduce a lot of new software, Microsoft seems to be taking it easy lately. Subscribers to the Microsoft Developer Network (MDN) received a letter recently saying the MDN CD-ROM/DVD set shipment would not occur for March because "no new software was available for a March shipment". But Microsoft did promise something for April: the MDN library installment.

"Maybe Barry will change his mind about Nikita," Randi said over the phone. And maybe the sock puppet will be resurrected.Robert X. Cringely is a regular contributor to ARN's sister publication Infoworld

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