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Culture

Microsoft name games and Crossgain migraines

One of my New Year's resolutions was to start paying more attention to my mail.

    One of my New Year's resolutions was to start paying more attention to my mail. I have a public e-mail address and as a result receive a steady stream of invective, complaints, threats, rants and stock manipulation tips. Oh yes, and the occasional rumor. Some of you write in with questions.

    "I only know 'skinny dipping,'" writes Woba4502. "What's the etymology of 'skinny' as in 'get the skinny'?"

    My knowledge of etymology is a little thin, so let me instead relate how I became Skinny. My parents--French-Canadian counterintelligence officers who died together under mysterious circumstances when I was very young--were ardent fans of Georges Simenon's Inspector Maigret. So ardent, in fact, that our library was choked with Simenon's compelling novels and I was christened Maigret DuBaud.

    But when I came to the United States as a teenager, my functionally illiterate classmates at Attrition Valley High teased me so ruthlessly--calling me everything from "Margaret" to "Maggot"--that my nearly bilingual grandmother translated the "maigre" in "Maigret" as "Skinny," and thus I have been called ever since.

    If only Microsoft had my grandmother on its payroll! Instead, the software giant is in the grips of a naming debacle of its own that's threatening to hold up the release of the new Office suite. The trouble started when Microsoft decided to name the new Office for the Mac "Office 2001."

    That puts the new Office for Windows, the successor to Office 2000, in a tight spot. It's also going to ship this year--and there can't be two Office 2001s. The company's chief software architect is rumored to have rejected as premature the designation "Office 2002." Another trial balloon said to have been shot down was to call the new suite "Office.Net," since Microsoft has already said this won't be the first .Net version of Office. And so the new Office remains, for the time being, nameless.

    So what's in a name, or in this case, a lack thereof? Skinsiders say the nomenclature impasse has reached the "critical path," meaning that unless Microsoft comes up with a decision pronto, the product launch will have to be pushed back to accommodate the printers.

    Independent publishers of Office-related materials are on the same tenterhooks waiting for Microsoft to get this straightened out. Microsoft declined to comment on the issue.

    All of which reminds me of one of our other favorite Redmond companies, Crossgain, which you read about here first and which, according to The Wall Street Journal, this week caved to Microsoft "pressure" in firing 20 former Microsoft employees until their non-compete agreements expire. Fact of the matter is, another five Crossgainers who weren't Microsoft veterans also lost their jobs when their projects ended thanks to the departures.

    Meanwhile, the newly unemployed workers, including CEO Tod Nielsen, who resigned, have until their non-compete agreements start expiring in June to ponder what is being thought of as breathtaking pettiness on Microsoft's part--particularly objections from the software giant's lawyers to Crossgain's use of "competing" technologies such as Java and Linux. Although sentiment is strong at the start-up that the ex-Microsofties would probably have prevailed in a court of law, the decision to fold their collective hand was a no-brainer. Ultimately it came down to a choice of a three-year trial or a six-month sabbatical.

    I'm not being offered either one at present, so back to your mail.

    "To hell with your rumors about companies and layoffs," writes Netshopr. "Don't you think people get upset when they read things about what could happen to them?...Your Rumor Mill is just an excuse to run unsubstantiated news...Report it all you want when it happens. But stop your disgusting dumpster-diving in the meantime."

    Dumpster-diving! I will confess to having gone through a wastepaper basket or two in my time, but a dumpster? Jamais! One outsources that sort of thing.

    Presumably the reader was upset over last week's item about this week's AltaVista layoffs; and therefore he or she will not be pleased to read that similar rumors are swirling about Amazon.com. The online seller of drill bits and plant fertilizer will be laying off staff after the company's post-holiday party this weekend, suggesteth the rumor mill, but preceding its earnings announcement Jan. 30. The company laid off 150 workers during the comparable time frame last year and is under considerably more pressure to show profits this time around.

    Amazon declined to comment; but surely Netshopr will not be so stingy with his or her remarks. Help prevent layoffs at the Rumor Mill--share what's in your dumpster.