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MSN glows in CompuServe fallout

War is not particularly good for children, pets, and other huggable creatures, but it sure makes for great headlines.

    War is not particularly good for children, pets, and other huggable creatures, but it sure makes for great headlines. Why do you think we journalists keep trumpeting the browser battles? Likewise, the latest salvo in the online service turf war--last week's purchase of CompuServe--dropped quite a bomb. Now that the mushroom cloud has dissipated, we can inspect the new landscape, with the biggest changes perhaps coming from one of the companies who stayed far away from ground zero.

    The powers that be at the Microsoft Network sniffed like curious dogs around CompuServe, as my colleagues reported last week, but ultimately decided not to bite. Nonetheless, MSN was able to feed off the scraps. One of my Redmond Skinsiders reported with a smile that MSN has quickly snapped up several disgruntled CompuServers to shore up the MSN community section. But that's not the big news.

    Microsoft apparently wants to take that section, which includes real-time chat, and move it to the other side of the firewall. According to my MSNformer, the services could be free to all comers but splashed with advertisements. Is this a move to siphon off subscribers from AOL's own chat-based services? Just think, you'll get to participate in conversations like this: "I'm a 16-year-old guy." "Cool. Me too." You'll also read ads to boot!

    Of course, free email supported by advertising has proven wildly successful. Given that, can MSN use its high-profile service to lure freebie chatters in droves? Another thing to think about: If anyone can jump in, will it encourage chat spam?

    MSN might farm chat out, but will it get to keep Java? In the wake of last week's Java purge on the "microsoft.com" Web site, MSN employees apparently received word from MSN veep Laura Jennings that Java's not recommended, although there won't be the same type of top-to-bottom Java heave-ho. As for "microsoft.com" editor Tim Sinclair telling our reporter the ban was his idea, I guess it was simply a coincidence that Chief Gates sent out an email two weeks earlier that demanded an applet be removed not only from his personal page but from the entire MS site. By the way, when Bill refers to Java, he writes it "JAVA."

    Speaking of upper case, there's a raging debate at the DuBaud dinner table about "spam" vs. "SPAM." Any way you slice it--now there's a disgusting thought-- Internet service providers are beginning to feel the spam crunch, as T1-clogging gobs of the garbage seem to arrive each day. One trick to lighten the load is to filter for "masked headers," something spammers use to conceal the origin of their canned mystery meat emissions.

    One Skinnographer, whose ISP has just begun the filtering process, reports that messages from users of one of the nation's largest ISPs aren't reaching him. According to my source, the ZipLink support line accused the big ISP in question of adding masked headers to its subscribers' email, which then get caught in the nets and spit back to senders. Is this ZipLink jealousy, or is the beef legit? Add this to the measures ISPs are taking to block spam from the freemail domains, and we could be in for a lot of blockages until legislators and/or the private sector figure out what to do about the spam problem.

    If you think spam leaves a bad taste in your mouth, you should have seen the package a couple of my colleagues received in the mail from PC superstore CompUSA. I've wondered in the past if PR people can read, but now I have doubts about their culinary wisdom. To promo some mystery event, which wasn't even explained in the package, the company sent a whole apple pie in a box. A tiny sticker on the box read "perishable," but who expects Internet reporters to open their snail mail right away? Besides, a box from a vendor usually means a T-shirt and an invitation to a data warehousing conference in the suburbs of Phoenix. When finally ripped open, the box was full of moldy pie, like a jun ior high science experiment. If any of you send me pi, make sure to round it off to the nearest one-hundredth. If you send me a rumor, make sure it's a la mode.