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Mergers of equals and Microsoft sequels

Those who say our government should borrow a page or two from the world of business may have a point.

Those who say our government should borrow a page or two from the world of business may have a point.

Anyone with half a mind for economics would realize that with Gov. George W. Bush ahead in New Mexico by three thousandths of a percent--and with more microscopic margins popping up all over the country as the final ballots are counted--the two major candidates are clearly appealing to entirely different but equally sizable markets.

So let's merge them.

Imagine the synergies! Think how we could leverage the personality of one with the intelligence of the other! With so little overlap in their audiences, we would effectively double their reach while enabling efficiencies and eliminating redundancies throughout the merged entity. Plus, Florida could go back to plucking oranges off trees, instead of picking chad out of punch holes.

The only trouble with these so-called mergers of equals is the sticky wicket of deciding who gets to be the more equal partner. Take the impending relationship between the "pink portals" PlanetOut and Gay.com. Rumors have been swirling around the companies as they court one another, and they have largely to do with who winds up ahead in the new arrangement.

One rumor making a triangle from Seattle to New York to San Francisco and back has it that the companies will merge--and soon. Under this scenario, Gay.com will wind up with a majority of the shares, a majority of the board, and its CEO, Lowell Selvin, taking the helm of the combined portals.

One Skinformant close to the companies said the companies stacked up just about evenly against each other in terms of assets and audience, but that Gay.com edged PlanetOut by a hair. Just a few thousandths of a percent? More, this Skinformant said--enough that the rumors on CEO and stock would be right. Another source--even closer to the companies--said that the board would most likely split 50-50.

If there's a recount, all bets are off.

Whatever the nitty-gritty of the power sharing, critics advise the portals to unite fast--if not for the good of the queer nation, then at least for their respective shareholders. In these market conditions, warn Skindustry watchers, only a pink powerhouse with a lock on the gay media market will have a shot at going public anytime soon.

Microsoft in hardcover
But enough about little companies coming together--let's move on to huge companies being split into tiny pieces. Microsoft is now, in addition to its other accomplishments, the proud author of a book. I refer, of course, to Inside Out, Microsoft--In Our Own Words, a 328-page tome that's plugged as a yearbook, looks like a coffee-table book, reads like a press release, and weighs as much as an anvil.

Published in celebration of Microsoft's 25th anniversary, Inside Out could stun an ox--or even Janet Reno.

Actually, Reno and other Microsoft critics would be stunned to find out, as Inside Out amply documents, what a fun-lovin', product-innovatin', insanely great bunch of guys and gals work at the Redmond fortress. The book says right up front that it's written "by Microsoft employees for Microsoft employees," but clearly the authors are anticipating a wider audience. Inside Out is "scheduled to be available worldwide in mid-October...and available from all major booksellers," according to the book's publicity. So for a mere $45, antitrust attorneys, federal law enforcement officials and we vipers in the press can listen in on this private conversation between Microsofties and get a little contact high from whatever it is they're smoking up in Redmond.

It's hard to choose from among my many favorite things in Inside Out. Here's a random sample:

• Numerous improbably cute pictures of Bill Gates, who appears to have launched Microsoft when he was about 11 years old.

• Memorable quotes: "One rule I've learned in this business is that you cannot be successful in marketing a bad product." That's from Brad Chase, displaying a surprising unawareness of the Windows operating system.

• A brief history of Bob.

• The tiny, tiny, tiny fonts.

• Ballmer's one-page acknowledgment of the DOJ trial--curiously missing from the many timelines scattered throughout the book--in which he blames it for causing him "a few bad hair days."

• Probing corporate self-analysis: "There's a little debate that swirls endlessly out there and it goes something like this: Is Microsoft a great software company or a great marketing company? The answer, of course, is both."

• A tip for anyone contemplating an interview with the company: "Never, ever, lie about anything. Ever." Just pause for 45 seconds before answering the questions. Then, when pressed, say you don't remember.

• Vigorous defenses of the company: "In spite of what the press and our competitors sometimes say, this company is full of good people: people who care, people who are honest, people who want to do what's right, people who define life as something larger than Microsoft." But somewhat smaller than this book.

There's more--much more--but I leave you with my No. 1 favorite thing about Inside Out, which is that it's published by Time Warner. This does not bode well for a sequel, or even a second printing.

Every week I have to turn this place inside out and upside down looking for your rumors.

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