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Stick your handheld NC where the Sun don't shine

The day started off beautifully at Sun's maximum-security fortress in California's Menlo Park (known to the cognoscenti as Sun Quentin), where dour security guards escorted me from room to room, not excepting the restroom.

    It's been a while since we've had a denial of dinner service attack at the house, but we came pretty close this week when Vermel, thwarting my attempt to force-feed him freeze-dried frogs' legs sent by Grandma DuBaud from her French vacation, planted a retaliatory bite right between my thumb and forefinger.

    In a perfect or at least better world, I would have been shocked by such behavior, but considering standards of civility in the computer industry, who could blame him? Vermel wasn't the only one who bit the hand that fed him this week, as anyone at the Inside Sun Software event could attest.

    The day started off beautifully at Sun's maximum-security fortress in California's Menlo Park (known to the cognoscenti as Sun Quentin), where dour security guards escorted me from room to room, not excepting the rest room. To confuse their enemies, Sun has planted enough star jasmine and lavender on the grounds to make anyone without a secret antidote (only supplied to employees) disoriented and sleepy. Chief executives are rumored to have gotten the idea from watching the "Poppies! Poppies!" scene from The Wizard of Oz while listening to Dark Side of the Moon.

    But storm clouds, if not a Kansas tornado, moved in on this sun-washed, floral scene in the form of Stewart Alsop, the venture capitalist whose sour commentary provided the only thing resembling comic relief during the recent Microsoft hearings before Sen. Hatch's judiciary committee. In his Inside Sun Software keynote, Alsop rained with great zeal on two of Sun's favorite parades: the network computer and handheld Net devices.

    Alsop started off by proposing a new term for the dumbed-down terminals that rely on a central computer for most of their brain power: "We should call them DCs, for dysfunctional computers," suggested Sun's invited guest. "The NC is a dead and corrupt concept, and I wish everyone would stop talking about it"--starting, pled the grouch, with Sun.

    His next target was the handheld computing devices Sun wants to power with its ChorusOS and JavaOS. "Web surfing sucks on consumer devices," the orator declared, causing star jasmine throughout the campus to wilt.

    Alsop did have one upbeat thing to say, noting that the infrared ports on handhelds let you exchange business cards electronically (a Newton déjà vu). This, according to Alsop, is the latest version of geek sex--causing sweaty palms and, one imagines, yet another mode of transmitting viruses.

    Things cleared up for Sun after the keynote. The company has a lot of things to be proud of, after all, even if it isn't allowed to talk about some of them. Sun was an invited guest at IBM's Summit '98, a spring powwow for 900 of Big Blue's biggest business recovery services customers. IBM and Sun are collaborating on a disaster recovery initiative for their joint customers, but evidently IBM didn't want news of that partnership to get around.

    Sun PR representatives apparently were flabbergasted when Blue Meanies approached them at the summit and confiscated their joint press release. "IBM higher-ups started getting heebie-jeebies about it," reports one Skinsider. The venture is moving ahead, according to Sun, and you didn't hear that from IBM.

    Other industry business relationships seem a bit warmer, notably between the folks over at Wired magazine and their new owner, Condé Nast. Shortly after the sale was announced, Condé Nast prez Steve Florio and executive VP Cathy Viscardi dropped by to introduce themselves to their newly acquired employees

    When it came time for the Q&A, there was a nervous silence, and then a woman in the back raised her hand to ask: "Are you going to let us use pens?" The answer was yes, marking an end to Louis Rossetto's reign of paperless terror, under which pens were neither provided nor encouraged at the future-minded company. Now the wretches can be ink-stained again, which is more than can be said for their less-fortunate former colleagues down the street at Wired Digital.

    What would a weekly rumor column be without a Redmond reference? Critics are speculating that Microsoft may have a handheld problem of its own after discovering the following peculiarity in Word: Type the phrase "Unable to follow directions," highlight the entire sentence (sans punctuation), and hit Shift-F7. Viagra, anyone? Good rumors are like a sweet confections, or even T3 connections. Send me your secrets and help expand my selections!