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Out of the Merc and into TheStreet

First of all, I owe my regular readers an explanation. Last week came and went without column, doubtless causing all 12 of you great anxiety about my well-being.

First of all, I owe my regular readers an explanation. Last week came and went without column, doubtless causing all 12 of you great anxiety about my well-being. My excuse: I was chasing down rumors that a consortium of weight-loss pharmaceuticals interests were angling to buy me out. The rumor turned out to be a little thin on substance, leaving me without a column or a new job. Then I was the guest of honor at the cigar lounge at the Industry Standard's first anniversary bash Friday night, and what, was I supposed to work on the weekend?

Turns out some of my colleagues actually are targets of acquisition. The latest print casualty is Adam Lashinsky, who has penned (keyed?) the column "Silicon Street" for the San Jose Mercury News since 1997. Now the smell of stock is luring Lashinsky northward to join fellow print refugee Herb Greenberg and the lovely and talented ex-News.com whiz (and one-time baby-sitter of my son Vermel) Suzanne Galante at TheStreet.com.

"I start Monday, and I'll be doing exactly the same thing," said a chipper-sounding Lashinsky. "I'll be writing a three-times-a-week column on Silicon Valley stocks and the scene."

Lashinsky had nothing but praise for the Merc and TheStreet.com, which he called a "hugely exciting opportunity."

So will he be getting a hugely exciting salary?

"I don't think it would be appropriate for me to comment on that," replied the suddenly reticent columnist. "But I'm definitely going to be fairly compensated."

Meanwhile, things are so hot over at TheStreet you could fry an egg on it. The IPO will be priced next month, and soon, Skinformants tell us, we will hear about a deal with the New York Times to create a "Newsroom on the Web." MeSkinks the partnership with that august news organization could do wonders for TheStreet's image.

Well, you heard it here first about Jump Networks selling itself to Microsoft. Turns out we were close on the purchase price--new Skinside info pegs it at mid-8 figures. And the When.com acquisition cost AOL more than $200 million, we hear.

And now, for the navel-gazing portion of today's show, we are happy to report that News.com's own analysis of the Webtop was weighing heavily on Microsoft's mind when folks there started flirting with Jump. "The impetus came from that story," said a source close to the acquired. That same month, Microsoft started making the moves on Jump at Internet Showcase.

Merger mania cont'd: imagine the surprise of the two new employees at e-commerce start-up Accept.com, who showed up to work for their first day of work Monday only to find out at a 10:30 staff meeting that they were moving to Seattle. The folks at another of Amazon's soon-to-be-wholly-owned subsidiaries, Alexa Internet get to stay put in the Presidio, lucky devils.

Another story you heard here first--we knew Compaq's Eckhard Pfeiffer was in trouble last week when we reported he was lifting copy from old press releases. Admittedly, we didn't think he'd have to step down as CEO...

Linux provider Red Hat was a victim of its own popularity this week after its Monday announcement of version 6.0. Red Hat is one of many Linux boosters that like to brag about the strength of Linux as an Internet server, but the company's Web site was all but offline well into the week as a surge of downloaders swamped it. The company was forced to disable Web-based ordering while it upgraded its servers to meet demand, encouraging the most Internet-savvy population on the planet to order by phone.

But what was I taking about--oh yeah, CNET. Even better: the Rumor Mill. Robin J. Russell writes in with congratulations after seeing in Wired that one of our 12 angry readers is the one and only Andy Grove.

"A one-time journalist in his homeland of Hungary, Grove outlined where he obtained most of his online news, which he described as 'an almost accidental' process," Wired reported. "Grove trolls Reuters for headlines, stock news from CBS Marketwatch, some from the Associated Press here, a little from ZDNet there, and 'for industry gossip, I go to CNET.'" Wired mistakenly linked from CNET to "www.news.com," when obviously Grove was referring to the Rumor Mill. Meanwhile, my friends at Wired should not take their exclusion from Grove's reading list too hard. Vermel assures me that he, at any rate, reads Wired for the latest on Betsy Ross in space.

But wait, there's another CNET item! Rolf Nordahl reports via his wireless modem on Waikiki Beach that checking on AAPL under CNET Investor turned up the following Business Wire piece:

APPLE SELLER OPENS "STORE" ON INTERNET

"Valicoff Fruit Company has returned to the retail arena after a 77-year absence. But this time the store isn't located on a dusty road, but on an off-ramp of the information superhighway. The third generation of Valicoffs has set up shop on the Internet (www.applesonline.com)."

Speaking of entrepreneurs, some really resourceful, not to mention thoughtful, people have found a way to capitalize on the high school massacre in Littleton, Colorado. A businessman by the name of Richard Rifkin is distributing unsolicited email from a list he says he purchased to advertise a "loan calculator." The spam reads:

"'We will donate 10 percent of profits until May 15th to the families of Littleton, Colorado, who lost a child at Columbine.' - R.Rifkin, President

WE ARE A LITTLETON, COLORADO-BASED SOFTWARE COMPANY."

When contacted, Rifkin declined that there was a company. Only him.

"You're one of those antispam people, aren't you?" he demanded. Without stretching the truth too much I told him I was a reporter. After detailing how he got my address (I knew I was on somebody's spam list!), he clammed up. So the connection between the loan calculator, the "company," and the tragedy at Columbine will remain obscure.

Microsoft numbers man Greg Maffei may be the cats meow as a potential chief executive in certain circles, but the Redmondian has created a minor firestorm for claiming database rival Oracle backed out of a challenge to Microsoft and its own SQL Server database software floated at Comdex last fall by major domo and boating enthusiast Larry Ellison.

Maffei said Microsoft's technology "smashed" Oracle's in a test based on TPC benchmarks, but the exec failed to mention that the test performed on Planet Microsoft was different from the test initiated by Microsoft. He also said Oracle backed out of the challenge.

That has Oracle steaming. "That's a lie. That's all there is to it," said a company flak.

In the aftermath, Microsoft issued a release to clarify its test and intentions: "Microsoft's message is focused on the customer value benefits of SQL Server 7.0 in the context of the business problem posed by Oracle, not on TPC-D benchmark competition."

One can only hope Maffei restricts his number-fudging to technology chest-beating.