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Microsoft hates Hotmail's guts

The phone rang the other day with that combination of shrillness and bad timing that could only mean one caller.

The phone rang the other day with that combination of shrillness and bad timing that could only mean one caller. "Hein, Skinny, I have an item for you, mon petit chou," bellowed Grandma DuBaud. The sound of her voice was mercifully muffled, as in an attempt not to electrocute myself (having just emerged somewhat prematurely from my evening bath) I had picked up the receiver with my towel.

"Here's what you should be writing about instead of all that Internet nonsense," she continued. "This afternoon I poured myself a bottle of Coke--and voila!--out came Pepsi!" I wondered out loud whether she had eaten a few too many unsweetened cranberries from her bog and so confused her taste buds. After all, the notion of Pepsi issuing forth from a Coke bottle is a little too lunatic-fringe for my blood. It calls to mind such nightmarish visions as the beast erupting from John Hurt's sternum in Alien--or the back-end blues now being sung by Microsoft's Hotmail.

It turns out that Hotmail, which boasts about as many users as there are people in New York City, spent its days of innocence (that is, before collecting a cool $400 million from Redmond) running on Sun's Solaris server architecture. On conquering said Hotproperty, Microsoft went immediately about bringing Windows religion to the natives. According to my chortling Sun chum, NT (unlike its desktop cousin) isn't ready to play monopoly yet. Microsoft, by Sun's account, summoned its geeks from far and wide, but all the king's horses and all the king's men couldn't manage 10 million users and their email with NT. Why? Not scalable enough.

"NT has limited network directory services, comparatively weak scalability, and no support for 64-bit processing, to name just a few of its problems," crows a Sun site on the Hotmail back-end debacle.

"Rumor has it," my Sun source added after recovering from her giggles, "that they just gave up and are going to leave Solaris architecture in place."

"That is a completely unfounded rumor, that we tried to port to NT and failed," steamed Hotmail's former CEO and current general manager Sabeer Bhatia. "That is completely untrue."

By Bhatia's account, Hotmail uses a variety of operating systems, including both Unix and NT (though what proportion of each is proprietary information). Hotmail is planning to port over to NT completely, but you just can't rush these things. Look for an NT-only Hotmail early in the next millennium.

Meanwhile, the beast still lurks within: Hotmail wants engineers but don't go into your job interview talking NT. On ne parle que l'Unix ici!

The software behemoth can console itself that other tech giants are eating some variety of crow these days. Faithful readers will recall that America Online recently was taken to task for its naughty practice of sending users who typed in keyword "ICQ" (the name of an Internet messaging company with no affiliation with AOL) to AOL's own Instant Messaging service, AIM.

But the other day, I found myself unable to find AIM through this nifty (if potentially illegal) short cut because AOL has destroyed all traces of the ICQ keyword. Poof! It's gone, faster than you can use up your 50 free hours. AOL, curiously, isn't returning phone calls on this issue, but ICQ reacted to this latest move by AOL with what observers are beginning to think of as ritual shock. According to ICQ general manager Tim Sixtus, the company had decided to respond to AOL's trademark tap dance by turning the other cheek, which leaves us with the improbable conclusion that AOL decided to discard the keyword not under the threat of legal action, but out of a sense of right and wrong. Quelle idée!

Keywords, trademark infringement--what's in a name, anyhow? Lots, if you happen to have Sun in your name and do anything on the Internet. You might wind up in court along with Sunline, a li'l mom 'n' pop Florida shop that's a newspaper chain, ISP, and Web builder. Apparently, Sun Microsystems' lawyers are doing their best to burn the company's trademark application. Remember, if you're the Sun, the world revolves around you!

Names also matter if you're the public relations firm formerly known as Network Associates. In response to potential confusion with the antivirus software firm born of the merger between McAfee and Network General, the flaks changed their name to Connect Public Relations. But now there seems to be more confusion on the horizon for this PR firm of many names. How are we to tell the difference between it and the e-commerce software company known as Connect? You can connect, network, or associate with me any time. Let's meet--just send me your rumors tout de suite!