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PDC-sick in San Diego

I had all my gear packed and ready to go: my woody, my Skinline skates, my SPF 35, and my sand-repellent laptop. I expected a relaxing week of undercover work among the Wingeeks at Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference.

SAN DIEGO--I had all my gear packed and ready to go: my woody, my Skinline skates, my SPF 35, and my sand-repellent laptop. I expected a relaxing week of undercover work among the Wingeeks at Microsoft's Professional Developer Conference. I should have packed my aspirin, too, because the week turned out to cause more headaches than a tequila-drenched Tijuana bar brawl.

By the second day of the gathering, it was clear that the San Diego Convention Center wasn't well equipped to handle the 6,000-plus developers and various groupies. Several of the breakout sessions were stuffed to the gills, and the fire marshal threatened to shut the proceedings down if Microsoft continued to let people sit in the aisles of the conference rooms. Outside the "Introduction to XML" session, at least 30 developers and reporters menaced the poor security guard who was under strict instruction not to let anyone else in. And this was ten minutes before the session started!

Microsoft promised to redo the sessions later in the week, not much consolation to those who weren't staying for the full-week brainwashing. Developers were starting to wonder where the $1,000-plus they paid actually went. Suspicion ran deep that the fees paid for the ridiculous video series that opened each morning's general session. (See last week's Rumor Mill for the details.) After suffering through two embarrassing installments of "The Developers," even MS general manager of developer relations Tod Nielsen couldn't bear it anymore. Halfway through Thursday's video, Nielsen apologetically pulled the plug and instead offered his daily top-ten list--not exactly a shining comedy moment itself. Nonetheless, the audience gave him a hearty round of applause.

As for those extra sessions, Mother Nature inadvertently saved Microsoft's hide. The tail end of Hurricane Nora blew into San Diego by midweek, cancelling a planned beach party. Instead of the party, the company scheduled...more technical sessions! Now that put a charge into 6,000 pocket protectors! The food and the band from the beach party, by the way, were donated to a local homeless shelter. There was no word if Microsoft also threw in 500 copies of Bob.

The main piece of propaganda to come out of the conference was DNA (Distributed interNet Applications Architecture), Microsoft's attempt to repackage its existing development infrastructure under a catchy new name. Surprisingly absent was any mention of ActiveX, which itself was a renaming of OLE (Object Linking and Embedding), Microsoft's first attempt to create a component software architecture. One observant Skinformer pointed out that the company's ActiveX Web site now redirects you to the DNA site. From there, you can access white papers and FAQ sheets on ActiveX, but they're all well over a year old.

Furthermore, the Active Group, which supposedly took over partial stewardship of the ActiveX platform last year, hasn't updated its Web site since June. Has the mighty MS marketing machine turned its back on the ActiveX brand, just as it finally gave up the ghost on OLE?

The Softies did manage to distribute a lot of NT 5.0 beta code, even though the product is at least a year away. (If you believe the Microsoft timetable, that is.) They also released an option pack for NT 4.0 Server, but early reports filtering into the Rumor Mill's oficina sureña, high atop the Hotel del Coronado, make it sound like interested parties are having trouble downloading and installing the gosh-darned thing.

Also emanating from San Diego was the stale breath of browser war blather. Are you sick yet of the endless NS-MS bickerfest? So are the good folks at, who bring you the summer's latest and greatest detournement that not only sticks it to those companies but to the press that covers them.

Finally, a mobile agent of mine just reported seeing one higher power ripping off another. Apparently, the Rev. Billy Graham, in the San Francisco Bay Area for a series of his patented stadium revival meetings, is advertising on a billboard above an S.F. freeway. The placard features the famous Microsoft pointy-finger icon raised to the heavens with the $64,000 question: "Where do you want to go tomorrow?" We're not talking about Comdex here, ladies and germs. Billy's going to save our Left Coast techno- heathen souls anyway he can. Have you backed up the hard drive of your soul? Email your best to Father Skinny and you'll be cruising on the superhighway to salvation.