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Microsoft drops a letter bomb

When Bill Gates went to Washington a few weeks ago to face the Senate's music, Sun CEO Scott McNealy sat on Gates's left and delivered zinger after zinger, treating Orrin Hatch's Judiciary Committee to many of his best Bill-bashing bits.

    When Bill Gates went to Washington a few weeks ago to face the Senate's music, Sun CEO Scott McNealy sat on Gates's left and delivered zinger after zinger, treating Orrin Hatch's Judiciary Committee to many of his best Bill-bashing bits.

    Much to my chagrin, Scott didn't recite his "Top Ten Computer Industry Situations Caused by Second-hand Marijuana Smoke." (No. 7: "Let's call that product 'Bob.'") He did roll out the old chestnut that controlling the desktop is akin to owning English and that charging for Windows upgrades is as fair as raising fees for additional letters.

    The 'Softies must have taken McNealy's remonstrations to heart. Just recently, Redmond's legal team served notice to a Web site that it could no longer use the letters "N" and "T" in its name or company materials. The site, a reseller of Windows NT software, summarily changed its name from "Windows NTXtras" to "ServerXtras," its URL from "www.ntxtras.com" to "www.serverxtras.com," and wiped clean all the references to its former name in its 100-page print catalog, marketing material, and stationery.

    Defending a trademar is nothing new, of course. A company will often send cease-and-desists threats just to have a copy of the letter in its files. That way, if a real trademark dispute crops up, the company can convince a judge that it has a history of actively defending its intellectual property. Unfortunately, such "defense" casts a wide net and often seems to make no practical sense. The ex-NTXtras site focuses exclusively on NT products, so using those two letters seemed a natural way to attract business. And the more business a reseller does, the more successful NT is as a platform, so you'd think Microsoft might lighten up. Perhaps Uncle Bill could give the ServerXtras team a little extra pocket cash to smooth the transition.

    Judging by the company's description of the makeover, Microsoft's didn't offer to lighten the load. Nonetheless, the president of the company has put his best face forward, insisting that "ServerXtras" is a better name anyway.

    McNealy's Washington quips about Microsoft also were sprinkled liberally--or in Scott's case, libertarian-ly --throughout John Heilemann's profile in the recent New Yorker, in which Heilemann tries to get at what makes Scott tick and comes up with two words: Bill Gates. But enough about McNealy--Heilemann is almost as ripe a candidate for the Noo Yawkah's high-tech high-society coverage as are his subjects. The ex-HotWired/Netizen writer allegedly landed a million-dollar deal for a book about the Valley and has turned up the heat in his relationship with Marimba CEO Kim Polese, according to sources Skintimate with the situation. Does this mean Heilemann must recuse himself from writing about the Java fund?

    In addition to making the letters "N" and "T" magically disappear, certain Redmondians are trying to hide the letter "D." One savvy Skinterpreter pointed out recently that in the wild, wacky world of Windows component development, the acronym "DCOM"--Distributed Component Object Model--is out of favor; Microsoft simply prefers "COM," or better yet, "COM+." Why? Because a component architecture is by default distributed, MS marketing honchos told my agent provocateur. Despite the marketeers' insistence than DCOM is passé, it lingers on at Microsoft.com, underscoring the confusing messages of the company's component strategy that drive developers and analysts nuts.

    The letters "A," "O," and "L" are enough to get plenty of people stirred up. Despite its many millions of users, the online service always manages to hand its opponents a bandolier full of ammunition, either with all-day blackouts or privacy bungles. Recent campaigns by rival Internet service providers have AOL fighting back: When customers call to cancel their subscriptions, phone reps are offering three free months of service, a move akin to a waiter offering five extra hamburgers to a diner complaining of tainted beef. Yet the strategy seems to be working, and estimates range as high as 750,000 to 1 million for AOL subscribers staying on due to the "three-free" deal.

    The offer's working so well, in fact, that AOL might move beyond disgruntled subscribers and try to snag non-AOL users with it. Whispering winds hint of a telemarketing campaign using hired-gun third parties to call potential subscribers in their happy homes. My number's unlisted, thank heavens. I'm not only a rumormonger but also a man of letters. Unfortunately, I've misplaced a big "J" and desperately need it back. If U know where it is or if U have something on the QT for me, send it ASAP.