Digging up dirt with IBM

I sat with Pammy in a trendy Palo Alto cafe, sifting through a pile of brochures we'd collected from the travel agency. As I thumbed through a guide to Montana fly-fishing, Pammy began reading the come-on for a stylish Caribbean resort. It promised beautiful surroundings for beautiful people. Pammy was ready to buy tickets. "Don't believe the advert-ising," I said, remembering the unlivable conditions we encountered on a much-ballyhooed Costa Rican rain forest trip.

I'd spent most of the week with a sceptical eye turned to the advertising at Microsoft's Internet Explorer 4.0 Reviewers Workshop.

Consider the company's press release touting that "Top 10" Internet service provider (ISP) ConXioN "migrated more than 99 per cent of its operations to the Microsoft Windows NT Server and the Microsoft BackOffice product suite". The release suggests ConXioN's dependency on Unix is now "practically a memory".

And what a memory it is. A search of the ISP's domain registry identifies dozens of servers running Unix. The press release closes with a quote from ConXioN's CEO, Antonio Salerno, declaring NT the ISP's "platform of choice for the future" - apparently not the present.

Sometimes you find stranger things than fiction in Microsoft's offerings. Consider the "Webdings" font the company is offering at com/truetype/fontpack/win.htm/. Windows 3.1 is 95K, but the 32-bit download is a whopping 205K. Why? My colleague found in the .EXE file what appears to be savings-and-loan account information from First Technology Credit Union. One can only hope that the Microsoftie - who revealed assets of less than $US550 and a paid-off 1988 Subaru wagon - is taking compensation in stock options.

Not all that flows from Redmond is false advertising, of course. Have you seen the Microsoft ad for Explorer, asking: "Where do you want to go today?" in a trumpet of music recognisable as Mozart's Dies Irae of the Requiem Mass? Roughly translated, the words to the music are, "When the damned are confounded and consigned to sharp flames." Not exactly where I wanted to go. And when will Microsoft get where it's going? Microsoft Press recently recalled its US fall 1997 catalogue promoting Windows 98 titles. The catalogues now offer Introducing Micro-soft Windows 9x for Septem-ber delivery, targeting beta users.

Office 97 lets you save to HTML, but Word creates an HTML page that notes image files in lowercase while saving the files with uppercase names. That's no problem for an NT server, but Unix is case sensitive and won't locate the image files.

Finally, any advertising claim in the Microsoft Mail spelling checker's suggestion that Back-Office be corrected with "backfire" must surely be unintentional.

It is easy, of course, to pick on Microsoft, and I want to thank "Steve", who answered the call for one kind word about our friends in Redmond. In an e-mail, he said he has been using Windows NT Workstation, Build 1381, for development, and it "hasn't hung up even once". A glowing endorsement, indeed.

I'm compelled to do so by Ms Pammy, who is again on a campaign to transform Bobby X into Mr Sunshine. Methinks it's simply her fear of spending her summer getaway in a confined space with me.

Microsoft ads troubled

Pammy's driving a sweet little Miata these days. The trunk is just big enough for an overnight bag and a bottle of champagne. We were about to sneak out of town late Wednesday afternoon when my editor called, looking for this column - one day early. My sights were so firmly set on a long holiday weekend of writing on my laptop on the beach that I'd missed the memo about closing the issue early.

Ah, well, I can still get immediate gratification by reading an internal memo from IBM's Java Guru. He was sparkin' mad after reading a story in The Wall Street Journal about IBM's decision to close its Web-based World Avenue electronic mall. The story quotes an IBMer saying: "We don't want to be in the position of generating traffic."

The internal e-mail says: "Whoever said it is fundamentally wrong, wrong, wrong. The Web is all about traffic."

The memo criticises IBM's failure to promote World Avenue before the finale of fireworks: "It is a humiliating example of our inability to get it in the Web space, and reinforces the negative perception we are trying to shake off of our ability to build credibility in cyberspace. Why would anyone buy e-commerce and e-business solutions from us with this example in our track record?"

Losers lining up

Speaking of internal memos, I received an oh-so-rare thank-you note from a Microsoft engineer regarding the SAM file security hole in NT. When this engineer prepared a report for Microsoft's knowledge base, the legal department let him know that the information was "far too dangerous", even for internal distribution.

It could be dangerous to install Microsoft's Visual Dev, Version 5, without also installing Service Pack 1, and thus I pass along this tip from the bleeding edge: the Service Pack will need 345Mb of free disk space, so plan to tidy up before you start the install. After you install Visual Dev 5, all Version 4.2 DAO programs are "DOA", my developer friend tells me. The Version 5 MFC42.DLL is incompatible with the old one, but the Service Pack fixes it.

Losers are lining up for a second change in the Gil Amelio pool. Folks around the Valley toss in a buck a guess to pick the date when Dr Gil steps down from Apple. Equity in the pot grows, if not in the company. Worse than losing tickets in the pool or even shares of Apple stock is hanging on to employee "incentive options", which are now priced higher than the open-market share price.

I'm not sure which is tougher to face: a copy chief waiting for an overdue column or Pammy, wilting in the summer heat, losing all interest in whisking me away. The upside . . . I don't have to drag the laptop to the beach.