At large: A voice in the wilderness

At large: A voice in the wilderness

If he saves only one person, Matthew JC. Powell thinks it's worth looking like a loon . . .

I'm sounding a warning here to concerned people everywhere, although I don't imagine I will be listened to. Prophets of doom tend to be ignored, ridiculed, ostracised and made to wear sandwich boards on street corners. That is, until the locusts arrive - then who gets the last laugh, eh?

So here goes: Microsoft wants to take over the world. OK, I know you don't believe me, you prefer to think that Microsoft is just another medium-to-large size company trying to make a fair living by selling quality products that make life better for all of us. If that means they step on a toe or two, so be it - their competitors should have tried harder and made better stuff, right? I'd like to believe that, too.

The thing that tipped me off was a headline I read in a business publication recently that said "Bill Gates is the World's Richest Person". Unbelievable, isn't it? Who would have thought? I know this is as much of a shock to you as it was to me. I thought Bill was, you know, comfortably well off. Imagine my surprise on learning that he's worth some 90-odd billion US dollars. According to my rough calculations, that's quite a bit of money. I'll have to work for several million years to save up that kind of dosh - a strategy that I don't think will work, given that it doesn't allow any budget for food.

Other Microsofties on the list included company co-founder (and, I'm told, a mean guitarist) Paul Allen and company president Steve Ballmer. Gates, Allen and Ballmer were three of the top four "working rich" in the world (the list doesn't include people living off inheritances). I don't know about you, but that concentration of wealth strikes me as a little bit worrying. It's almost like a conspiracy - like these three decided to get that rich on purpose.

Further signs of Microsoft's dire plans came to light in reports over the weekend that the company staged a paramilitary-style scavenger hunt operation in New York City that resulted in police of various divisions being called to several locations around the city. Members of the hunt were meant to find puzzles and riddles hidden in various locations around the city and, on solving them, go to the location of the next clue. Just like in Die Hard: With A Vengeance, except that apparently these clues made sense.

All sounds quite innocent, no? Tell that to the cleaners at the Marriott hotel who found several containers of a bright green substance labelled "Radioactive Waste". An entire floor of the hotel was evacuated while Hazardous Materials disposal officers were called in to investigate what turned out to be three bottles of dishwashing liquid planted by Microsoft. Microsoft's "base camp", by the way, was in the competing Waldorf Astoria Hotel - no risk of being evicted by a disgruntled Marriott manager.

And did Microsoft expect its hunters to register at the Marriott, gain access to the appropriate room and find what they were looking for? I doubt it. The Marriott wouldn't have let them have that particular room until after it had been cleaned, surely, which implies that Bill's fledgling soldiers were meant to gain unauthorised access to a hotel room, then leave undetected. Innocent enough now, but what diabolical schemes may seize Bill's crazed imagination in future, once he has staff that can do this kind of thing?

Next year's hunt is in Italy, and you can be sure that in future other cities worldwide will be scouted and base camps established. New York was only the beginning.

One final thing: following the recent publication of a column entitled "Itchy fingers", it has been pointed out to me that some readers have the impression that I don't like Americans. Let me assure you now that nothing at all could be farther from the truth. I have a great respect for America and something between curiosity and admiration for its people.

America gave us blockbuster movies, fast food, mass-produced cars and television shows that never end. America's drive for world domination instilled its government with a paranoia that led it to build a secure global computer network, then its victory in the Cold War turned that network into the Internet and gave us all e-mail and online shopping.

America gave us Silicon Valley and Bill Gates, without either of which I would have little to say, and no audience to whom I could say it. What's more, some of my best employers are Americans. If any American readers took my recent comments to heart, please be assured that I was merely yanking your chains.

Matthew JC. Powell is the editor of ARN's sister publication PC Buyer. E-mail him at matthew_powell@

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