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I shed a (crocodile) tear for you, AOL

Vermel and I pretended to watch the Stupid Bowl this weekend, but we what we were really interested in were commercials, not touchdowns.

Vermel and I pretended to watch the Stupid Bowl this weekend, but we what we were really interested in were commercials, not touchdowns. Seeing the Super Bowl Sunday parade of beer ads, auto spots, and software sales pitches is like going to a Madison Avenue debutante ball. Every commercial is gussied up for the biggest audience television can muster. They become an event unto themselves. Who needs football?

On the gridiron, the Packers were apparently whipping New England's butt. During a commercial break, CompuServe gave America Online a kick in the rear with a satirical spot poking fun at its competitor's network problems. Is anyone out there beginning to feel a little sorry for AOL? Steve Case has more class action on his hands right now than a high school history teacher. It wouldn't phase me if F. Lee Bailey and Alan Dershowitz got in on the litigation windfall soon. Poor AOL.

All right, that's enough sympathy for AOL. Not only are subscribers getting blitzed by busy signals when they dial in over AOL's network, but now some users who connect to the service via other ISPs are getting hosed as well. Lately, my in-box has been getting toasty with flame mail from subscribers who can't get a TCP/IP connection to the service. Is AOL's garage door to the information superhighway jammed?

Speaking of highways, a number of my spies offered me some interesting observations about the road to Memphis. Microsoft is asking beta testers of the next major release of Windows, code-named Memphis, not to refer to the OS as Windows 97. "Many people in the press have designated it 'Windows 97,'" the Memphis release notes say. "While that is among several possibilities, it is not the official product name at this time, and they are just guessing."

Maybe we're guessing, but the Redmondians seem scared that they'll slip their release date for the OS. Apparently, Memphis contains a set of CAB files, the names of which omit any reference to a year--as in Win9X##.CAB. Windows 95's CAB files, on the other hand, are clearly stamped 95. Anyone for Windows 98 or Windows 99?

Of course, it's old news that Microsoft is behind on Internet Explorer 4.0, a critical part of Memphis, and that it shipped the first beta of the operating system sans browser. Now, I hear that Memphis testers will get a special of Explorer 4.0 in February that will contain features related to the Wintel zero-administration initiative. My spies were woefully silent on what the features will be, but I hear Windows 95 users will get a public beta of the browser without the zero-administration capabilities in February.

That news should jazz up Explorer junkies, though it won't do much for users of Iomega's JAZ drives. I'm told that a growing number of users are getting faulty drives and that the devices are suffering a 50 percent return rate. Is it time to buy SyQuest stock? Buy my stock. All you have to do is invest a rumor or two in Skinny Enterprises, Inc. Mail them to me now.