CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again


MSNtropy: Lights on, nobody home

As Yeats once told us in his eerie Halloweenish masterpiece, The Second Coming, "Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold."

As Yeats once told us in his eerie Halloweenish masterpiece, The Second Coming, "Things fall apart, the centre cannot hold."

So as All Saints' Eve slouches towards cyberspace, I thought it appropriate to impart to readers a ghoulish tale that might make you look twice at the shroud of fog cloaking the next full moon--or at least at your next bill from MSN. In fact, the tombstone of this underdog online service might well bear Yeats's chilling epitaph if it doesn't bring order to the maelstrom of chaos that is its billing system.

A recent flood of emails to the Skinbox have vividly colorized the pencil-sketch news reports that have appeared regarding this fiduciary Orwellian nightmare. In fact, first-hand accounts indicate that MSN's bureaucracy rivals the IRS for its draconian collection practices, the KGB for its secretive activities, and Marv Albert for the sheer wackiness of its behavior.

One brave Canadian told us a Kafkaesque tale of woe, moaning that MSN had "abused its banking privilege and siphoned $456.54 Canadian" from his Visa account--a full six months after he had quit the service. We knew this gentleman was upset because much of his email was written in ANGRY CAPS like these! The disgruntled Canuck says he "felt like the helpless victim of a deliberate criminal act" and that he has notified the Montreal police about the matter. So don't be surprised if you see MSN execs being pursued by Canadian Mounties, who always--online or offline--get their man.

Victim No. 2 writes to say that he was billed six times last month and that when he called to complain, he was told that he had not one but TEN open accounts--when in fact he had canceled his single account the month before. To add insult to injury, his next bank statement informed him that MSN had even charged him twice on the same date. My PrescripSkin: One Advil, a Scotch on the rocks, one eye of newt, and the 800 number of new online giant AOLpuServe.

How about one more for the road? "After two weeks of free trial, I decided [MSN membership] wasn't worth it; five months later, I get a bill for four months." Others chimed in saying MSN servers crash almost every weekend, leading to a standard newsgroup joke that MSN is a 9-to-5, Monday-to-Friday operation; that hackers have breached the MSN system and sent members killer emails that jammed up their accounts. Looks like Bill might have to go over there and open up a few cans of whup-ass on the desks of key MSN execs.

Still think billing is an isolated trouble zone for MSN? Tell that to the Silicon Valley mole who informs us that the MSN Help site doesn't recognize the newly created Silicon Valley area code 650--effectively shutting out dozens of key tech players such as Hewlett-Packard, Silicon Graphics, Oracle, Stanford University, and even Microsoft's own WebTV! What are analysts to make of such an eerily capricious market segmentation? Is it MiSaNthropy? Or is there just not enough wallop in the gallons of Coke that reportedly serves as a staple of the Redmondian diet?

But enough on billing and service. Let's move on to good, old-fashioned whispers of espionage, this time by MS itself. The following campfire story might very well be nothing but an interesting urban legend. You be the judge. The scuttlebutt circulating is that copies of IE 4.0 have been scanning users' hard drives for pirated Microsoft software, sending back a message to the mother ship if any contraband is found. These tips seem to involve some mysterious New Zealanders, and some of them seem about as plausible as an Oliver Stone plot, but they do throw good grist for the chill mill, as October 31 comes up.

But wait! As the mournful foghorns sound over the dark mist of San Francisco Bay, I do believe I may have found an explanation for the supernatural events portrayed above. I have discovered an organization called The Corporation, which claims to own not only the Internet but also every major company on Earth. Perhaps even Bill himself must answer to this higher power... Trick or treat,
Rumors are neat
Send me tips I can repeat...