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Culture

Rumors, tunes, servers and goons

Unconfirmed reports orbit Microsoft's antitrust trial, and a preteen vocal star-to-be shines up her IM lingo.

    I love the flicks, especially here in San Francisco where every moviegoer is a real-time critic.

    Last night, before the main attraction (which I can't for the life of me remember), the trailer for Startup was met with such a rousing chorus of hissing and catcalls that one could barely make out the gripping dialogue. I was able to catch a few heart-stopping clips from this War Room-style documentary, such as "our site isn't as good as our competitor's," a judgment apparently borne out by subsequent events. It's unclear what the market for this doc will be, apart from those in the mood for a little cheap schadenfreude. Overheard in the theater last night from one surviving dot-commer to another: "Why see the movie when I could just read my own diary?"

    Besides, if a movie has to be made about a technology company under siege, it should really be about Microsoft--with a substantial subplot devoted to the rumors that have cropped up at every stage of the antitrust trial.

    This week alone provided ample material for a miniseries: Unconfirmed reports were flying that the government was going to revise its recommendations on remedies; word also had it that the state attorneys general were on the verge of crafting a settlement.

    That second rumor reached such a fever pitch that by midweek, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller felt compelled to flatly deny it.

    "We don't ordinarily talk about settlements, but in this case we heard there were such rumors and he said that it wasn't true," said Bob Brammer of the attorney general's office.

    Microsoft flack Jim Cullinen expressed total ignorance of the rumor, eliciting a skeptical response from trial gadfly ProComp.

    "Microsoft has been trying to suggest, trying to tell everybody that the Bush administration is going to let them off with a slap on the wrist," said ProComp prez Mike Pettit. "I think that's wishful thinking on their part. Somebody might think it's in Microsoft's interest to start rumors to that effect."

    It wouldn't be the first time. Similar rumors abounded in the days before Judge Jackson issued his conclusions of law.

    "There were numerous rumors at that time that the case was going to be settled," Pettit said. "And there was nothing to it. It looked clear to me that someone was trying to manipulate the stock price."

    Meanwhile, legal eagles say the rumored scenarios are technically possible but extremely unlikely. The acting antitrust division chief could conceivably change the government's recommendation on remedies, but at this point in the appeals process it would make little sense. And even if Bush's Justice Department is more sympathetic to Microsoft, nobody expects the hawkish state attorneys general to sign onto a settlement anytime soon--especially after Miller's flat-out denial this week.

    I want my IMTV
    While the rumor mill tries to boost Microsoft stock, AOL Time Warner is getting its share of free publicity with a new pop sensation sweeping the Old World and New called "IM Me." The song, available on the Web site of preteen chanteuse Brittney Cleary--the object of aggressive overtures by record labels here and in the U.K.--is an ode to the pleasures of instant messaging, rife with IM shorthand and AOL Instant Messenger sound samples. The chorus:

    Hey, LOL, G2G
    I gotta go, but watch for me 'cause
    I'll be right back, BRB
    So sign on, and IM me

    We at the Rumor Mill found the song's message so irresistible that we did just that--as part of our continuing series of IM conversations with Internet stars not old enough to vote--and had the following exchange with Brittney, who was dialing in from her adoptive home of Nashville, Tenn.

    Rumor Mill: Tell me about your IM song--how'd you think it up? What gave you the idea?
    Brittney: We were looking for songs, and it's tough to find songs for a girl my age. So we needed to write something I can relate to...IM.
    Rumor Mill: When did you start using IM?
    Brittney: Like 2 years ago.
    Rumor Mill: What do your friends think of your song? Your IM buddies?
    Brittney: They think it's cool.
    Rumor Mill: Are they singing it at school 2u?
    Brittney: Yeah. At lunch.
    Rumor Mill: Does that bug you?
    Brittney: Nah. It's all cool
    Rumor Mill: One more question--were you born Brittney? Or is that your diva name :-)
    Brittney: Nah that's my name LOL.
    Rumor Mill: Coolio!
    Brittney: Thanx alot c ya lata sweetie buh bi.

    Brittney's father, Mike, corroborates her account of the song's genesis, noting that it's hard these days to come up with songs appropriate for the repertory of a 12-year-old.

    "My wife and I were trying to find a good song for Brittney to sing, and everything out there was either too seductive or too trashy," Cleary recalled. "So we asked Brittney what she wanted to sing about. She said, 'Boys.' We said, 'Not.' And just as we said that, about 20 dialog boxes popped up on her computer screen at once, and we looked at each other and it was like, boom."

    Hi, my name is: Miguel
    Boom pretty much describes the impact Costa Rican President Miguel Angel Rodriguez had on the Intel campus earlier this week. In the North American neighborhood for the recent trade summit near my home town outside Quebec, Rodriguez made a Santa Clara, Calif., stop for a cabeza-a-cabeza meeting with Intel CEO Craig Barrett.

    "We were caught in a sweep," reports a Skinformant with the press. "They had to move all vehicles from the front of the building, and these Secret Service goons in black suits were running around with a real attitude. What was interesting about it was that apparently everyone at Intel was clueless about it. The PR people we were working with had no idea what was going on."

    They have since been briefed on the meeting.

    "We have a plant down there, and this was a normal, private meeting, a discussion of how things are going," said Intel flack Chuck Mulloy. "He has a visit with Barrett whenever he's in the U.S. It's completely normal."

    Going, going, gone...
    Is it completely normal for a company to buy its own servers at a premium to keep them off the market? Sun Microsystems, which in cheerier times prided itself on its sales to Internet companies and billed itself as "the 'dot' in dot-com," is facing competition from its own used products.

    Though the company says going-out-of-business sales are a pretty small factor in its current financial woes, one tipster reported that a dying dot-com found that Sun was willing to pay 50 percent more for its servers than the auction houses said they were worth.

    Would this be a way to prop up prices for the newer servers Sun is trying to sell?

    "Generally speaking, the people in charge of our inventory know the value of components," Sun CFO Mike Lehman told the Rumor Mill. "But that one oddball case doesn't sound like a great business deal overall." I'll make you a great business deal: Send me your rumors, and I'll spread them.