Culture

Microsoft gives WebTV that NT feeling

Grandma DuBaud doesn't like computers much, but to keep abreast of my online activities she has compromised on a WebTV subscription.

Grandma DuBaud doesn't like computers much, but to keep abreast of my online activities she has compromised on a WebTV subscription. Televisions are not as threatening as computers to the average French-Canadian senior citizen. TVs, for example, don't tend to crash.

But as my colleagues here reported, WebTV did just that last week, depriving users of several hours of Web browsing and channel surfing. Another outage, apparently less widespread, KO'd users yesterday, and the Rumor Mill is churning with possible explanations.

My personal favorite is that WebTV is suffering from a Hotmail complex. Readers will recall rumors that Microsoft tried to convert Hotmail and its many millions of users from Unix to NT, sans success. Now WebTV newsgroups are buzzing with speculation that a similar disaster is befalling WebTV's back end, depriving users of access to both Simpsons reruns and JenniCam action.

That rumor appears to derive from two sources: one is the sly sleuthing of my learned colleague at the San Francisco Chronicle; the other is the "help wanted" postings on WebTV's employment pages, which demand both Unix and NT expertise.

WebTV says it's all hogwash and blames the glitches on--surprise!--an overwhelming influx of enthusiastic new users. But the service's employees who monitor internal newsgroups are a little more circumspect, telling rumor-happy participants that WebTV will neither confirm nor deny reports of the NT invasion.

Meanwhile, over at Sun, a Skinformant normally eager to chortle over NT fiascos has heard the glitches aren't related to either NT or Solaris, and that the real culprit was a bulletin board bug that created some kind of infinite loop, crashing the system. Another pair of prying eyes reports that WebTV has Solaris running on Sun hardware for everything a customer sees, with NT as a workgroup server for internal purposes only. So there are all the rumors--pick your favorite!

Speaking of the Chronicle, I wonder what its lawyers think of the fact that "sfchronicle.com" is up for sale. Perhaps those attorneys are picking the brains of their counterparts at the San Francisco Examiner--"sfexaminer.com" also was on the block by the same vendor and currently is in use by a group called the World Revolution. These revolutionaries believe in peace, social justice, environmental balance, economic well-being, ethical culture, and cybersquatting. Vive la révolution!

Newshounds may have been surprised to learn today that Netscape signed with InfoSpace to provide white pages for Netcenter. The Skinside information on that deal is that Netscape's first choice--WhoWhere--freaked after Netscape balked at sharing traffic and then demanded 1.5 million clams up front. One can only wonder what kind of terms InfoSpace wound up swallowing...

I'm not so interested in profiteering squatters or profiteering portals, but the Easter eggs you all hurl my way are a source of endless fascination. It turns out that Excel 97 isn't the only piece of Microsoft bloatware with a fancy signature on it; Excel 95 has one that's pretty nifty, too:

Select the entire 95th row, hit Tab to sub-highlight B95, go to Help--About Microsoft Excel, depress Ctrl and Shift, then click the Tech Support button. Here, you get a little info on what it's like to work for Bill: You should find yourself in the "Hall of Tortured Souls." Move with the arrow keys and find rolling credits just up the stairs. For bonus Doomsday, type "excelkfa" (for "Excel kicks @%$#+?* ass"), and the rear wall vanishes and leads through a narrow walkway to what my egg beaters tell me is a humorous picture. OK, I confess: I'm not coordinated enough to negotiate narrow walkways in spreadsheet applications. So tell me what that picture is, and throw in your rumors to boot.