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Campbell venture scores a Homer

I've always admired my son Vermel's capacity for tolerance, even if it doesn't always extend to his immediate family.

One stand-out example: Vermel's precocious friend Jai Pegue this year convinced Vermel to join the Little League team, despite that fact that Vermel shares his father's aversion to outdoor sports. "I'd rather be hacking into China's nuclear labs," complained Vermel. But he was game.

Vermel's Little League indulgence paid off big time for the Rumor Mill this week: at a recent game in the South Bay, fellow proud papa and former Intuit CEO Bill Campbell was seen with papa-to-be-any-minute-now, recent AOL hire, and former Netcenter head honcho Mike Homer. The two have a long-standing personal friendship that goes back to Apple days and beyond, and rumor has it that the two are planning to go into business together.

That rumor is substantiated by a totally unsubstantiated rumor that had Bill and Mike looking at commercial property in the Palo Alto area recently, and by the widespread understanding that beneath his sunny disposition, Homer is wintry with discontent about playing second fiddle to AOL prez Bob Pittman and will not be in that position or at that company very long.

Perhaps more troubling than Homer's discontent is fellow AOL conscript Marc Andreessen's sunny disposition about his new employer, which gives off a shocking odor of sincerity. Andreessen's keynote address at the Macromedia user conference read like a cross between an AOL press release and a Jay Leno routine. Andreessen kept the Macromediums in stitches with clever quips about "You've Got Mail" and bewildered consumers calling tech support to find out about why the coffee cup holder (i.e., CD-ROM tray) didn't work.

But that technical support issue came back to haunt Andreessen when one questioner, after a particularly obsequious introduction buttering up the new AOL CTO, said, "I just have one question. When I start up Navigator, I get this gray screen offering me AOL Instant Messenger. Why is it there? Is it just to annoy people? How do I get rid of it?"

The subsequent ovation was embarrassingly loud, lusty, and long. Andreessen reddened and referred questioner to tech support, where they are undoubtedly busy still trying to figure out how to make that cup holder work.

Attendees at Macromedia U-Con enjoyed three entertaining keynote addresses. Andreessen played stand-up comic, Macromedia CEO Rob Burgess played peppy salesman, and @Home CEO Tom "TJ" Jermoluk played inspirational televangelist. Maybe the most entertaining thing about the speeches was the frequency of derogatory metaphors that kept coming up to describe consumers.

"The dogs are eating the dog food," Jermoluk announced breathlessly, paraphrasing Kleiner Perkins dynamo John Doerr (wish him a happy wedding anniversary if you can get him on the phone--I can't).

Which probably would have gone in one ear and out the other if Burgess's presentation hadn't showcased two marketing metaphors, one of Macromedia-fortified Web sites as boxing gloves (ready to punch out their users?) and the other of the "sticky" Web site as used flypaper with a bunch of flies spelling out WWW, sort of a Busby Berkeley routine for dead insects. As flies to wanton boys are we to the Web site!

None of this even compares to the metaphorical land mine Microsoft stepped on last week. The company received complaints about the Microsoft Clip Gallery, included with Microsoft Publisher, which evidently raised the ire of users for the following reason:

"The words 'monkey bars' returns a series of images, including an African American couple posing on playground equipment," explained a red-faced Microsoft in a mea culpissima knowledge base article. "In addition to 18 other word associations, this image was unfortunately assigned the words 'monkey bars,' referring to the playground equipment visible in the image...Microsoft has moved to resolve these issues by making available a new software tool that removes the association, which does not accurately address the image and can be viewed as inappropriate or insulting." This column can be viewed as inappropriate and insulting, but not unless you send me your rumors.