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Culture

I'll buy MS Office for $5

I'll never forget the first office job I ever had. I used to paint White Out tattoos on my arms, and make after-hours Xeroxes of my butt on the copy machine. Eventually, I was caught and fired, but not before I had amassed reams of photocopies. Nowadays, there isn't a platen glass surface in the world that could support my rear end.

I'll never forget the first office job I ever had. I used to paint White Out tattoos on my arms, and make after-hours Xeroxes of my butt on the copy machine. Eventually, I was caught and fired, but not before I had amassed reams of photocopies. Nowadays, there isn't a platen glass surface in the world that could support my rear end.

Speaking of illicit copying, it didn't take long for a group of hackers to crack a trial version of Microsoft Office 97 offered by Kinko's. The copy king is trying to lure customers by selling them a $4.99 edition of Office that expires after 90 days. But no sooner did the offer appear--and, with it, a TV commercial featuring Howard Rheingold as a shill--than some wily hackers came up with a way to sidestep the expiration date. A code for cracking the date is freely circulating on the Net. Tsk, tsk.

Apparently, English Net surfers wish they could crack something on the head of British Telecom's customer support. Lately, users of BT's Internet access service have been getting bumped down to 9.6 kbps even though they have beefier 28.8-kbps modems. Customer service has kept some users on hold for more than 12 minutes, and on Sundays BT closes up shop by 6 p.m., leaving twilight Net surfers in the lurch.

I had my own infuriating experience with an ISP last weekend. My goal of signing up for CompuServe seemed relatively simple. After all, I already had CompuServe software installed on my shiny new laptop. Of course, it turned out I was missing a serial and "agreement" number that would allow me to log on the network. To make a long story short, I spent 25 minutes navigating around some god-forsaken automated phone system looking for my numbers, neither of which I ever found. CompuServe gets an F- for user friendliness and a place in my ISP Hall of Shame until otherwise noted.

While I was lost in customer service hell, a world of chatting was going in cyberspace. Last week, WebChat, a nexus for Net chatters, hosted either a heart-rending virtual therapy group or a fake suicide; I'm not sure which. According to the WebChat PR folks who contacted a CNET reporter last week, one longtime WebChat member threatened to end it all in a chat forum by taking a handful of pills. After other chatters rallied around him, the man allegedly threw up the pills and was saved.

WebChat was quick to hold the incident up as an example of the power of online community. Perhaps it was. But when asked for more tangible evidence that the suicide was legitimate, the WebChatters admitted that there was no proof beyond the chat transcripts. Stronger confirmation might have spoiled the PR. Don't be a pill and spoil my day. Send me some rumors right away.