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Microsoft puts its best brain forward

NEW YORK CITY, just like I pictured it--Grandma DuBaud, bless her soul, was concerned.

    NEW YORK CITY, just like I pictured it--Grandma DuBaud, bless her soul, was concerned. "Fais attention, Skinny!" she cried when I told her I was on my way to New York. "I hear they eat les Canadiens for breakfast down there!" Only at the Rangers' games, G. In fact, the only danger I've come across so far is the freezing rain coming through the leaky glass ceilings at the Javits Center, site of this week's Internet World show.

    Judging from the latest glossy mags, Microsoft, a company with a lot more to be concerned about than leaky roofs, is looking to bolster its wayward image. Recent editorial visitors to Redmond have noted the company's insistence on trotting out Nathan Myhrvold, CTO and resident superbrain who heads up the Softies' R&D efforts. The New Yorker and Fortune, for example, have leaked ink all over the mild-mannered technowhiz and his portfolio of advanced degrees and culinary delights in the past few months. Believe you me, folks, those pieces don't happen unless the PR brain trust gives its stamp of approval.

    While under the heat lamp of federal scrutiny, could it be that Microsoft is shifting the media spotlight toward its future-friendly, innovative side optimized by Myhrvold, as opposed to its bare-knuckled, (anti)competitive side optimized by Steve "Bulldog" Ballmer? It's premature to call this an executive power struggle, but I wouldn't be surprised if you see a lot more of Myhrvold and a lot less of Ballmer until the DOJ joust blows over.

    Another MS tormentor stole a bit of the spotlight yesterday, as Sun's JavaSoft announced a piece of software that pulls a fast one on Internet Explorer by letting its users download and use Sun's "pure" Java Virtual Machine. My Skinformers sat in on the event and said, if nothing else, that JavaSoft chief Alan Baratz has the biggest sideburns of any high-tech exec since Elvis Himselvis hacked together a prescription-drug database, mama baby.

    Speaking of facial hair, the ever-present Larry titillated the afternoon keynote crowd yesterday by making light of his $2 billion loss while reciting the ins and outs of a network computing architecture. Only now, he quipped, could he truly understand the need for low-cost infrastructure management. The way Oracle's stock is going, he might soon understand the need for off-the-rack suits from JCPenney.

    Perhaps Ellison was jolly during the keynote, but he wasn't feeling frivolous enough to show up later for his scheduled discussion with financial news service tycoon Michael Bloomberg, an event that was supposed to happen for public consumption yesterday at the Bloomberg booth. Maybe it's something in the local water supply, as this is the second time this year that Larry has peeled away from an engagement in the Big Apple.

    What does it all mean? My colleagues in the trade press will have a slightly harder time figuring it out now that Redmond-based industry newsletter Windows Watcher has folded its tent. Editor Dwight Davis, never one to mince words about the goings-on around Lake Washington, is apparently looking for a full-time consulting gig at one of the big analyst houses, said a Skinsider, while another staffer has moved on to work for the software giant itself. If you can't cover 'em, join 'em?

    Others moving on: Two oft-quoted tech-politico insiders are forming their own Internet campaign consultancy. Jonah Seiger, former communications director for the Center for Democracy and Technology, and Shabbir Safdar, former head of the Voters Telecommunications Watch, will launch the venture in January, according to Seiger. Given their strong antiregulatory, free-speech leanings, it will be interesting to see which clients they sign up as the Internet takes a more prominent role for the year 2000 election cycle.

    Some follow-up as I watch the I-World crowd scurry for cover from the sleet pelting Gotham: No word yet on the outcome of the Yahoo-Excite softball rematch, except this note:
    "This is Michelle, pitcher for Yahoos on First, and I have to take offense at your 'pitching-poor' comment. Maybe you've just been playing hardball, but in slow-pitch softball, a score of 14-11 isn't exactly a slugfest but the equivalent of a 3-2 game of baseball...An undefeated pitcher with as many strikeouts as walks is hardly 'poor'...I've been pitching for 16 years, fast-pitch and slow-pitch, and I have always prided myself on being a good pitcher. Maybe you didn't mean to criticize me personally, but I'm the team's only pitcher, so that's what happened." Je suis coupable! I apologize profusely. Don't let me strike out again; toss me your rumors right down the middle.