Operator No. 9: October 8, 2001

Some people look forward to the leaves changing colors on the trees as summer slowly, gracefully, inevitably gives way to the golden days of fall.

We See No Limits . . .

Some people look forward to the leaves changing colors on the trees as summer slowly, gracefully, inevitably gives way to the golden days of fall. Not me. I cant wait to get my hands on Microsofts annual report, which was released last week. This years installment — titled Realize Your Potential — once again chronicles the myriad technical, marketing and financial accomplishments of the worlds biggest software maker. "At Microsoft, we see no limits to the human imagination," the opening reads. "Our purpose is not simply to unlock the potential of todays new technologies. Our goal is to unleash the creativity in every person, every family and every business." Doesnt mention, though, that all that unleashing and unlocking only comes to those who do Windows.

Et Tu, i2?

Got an interesting package in the mail from i2 Technologies the other day — a briefcase filled with information about its upcoming iPlanet conference in Las Vegas. Usually, companies wait until you get to the conference before they give you your freebie, but I guess with so many users conferences being canceled in the wake of the Sept.11 attacks, i2 wanted to make sure people knew the event was still on. I guessed wrong. The day after I got the package, i2 sent out a note saying the Oct. 15 to 18 conference was postponed until spring 2002. With all these conferences being canceled, looks like I wont be able to "regift" logo-emblazoned knapsacks and briefcases for the holidays.

Oh, Deer!

I know the idea of rapping poor spellers knuckles with a ruler fell out of favor a long time ago, but Im thinking it might be high time to take a whack at Microsoft Words spell checker. It changes Verizon Wireless to Venison Wireless every time! Its enough to turn me into a vegetarian.

Just One Click Away

Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door. Just ask Bell Laboratories. Yes, since its founder, Alexander Graham Bell, invented the telephone, Bell Labs has made a lot of major advances in communications and technology, earning plenty of Nobel Prizes for its research. But Im not talking about that Bell Laboratories. Im talking about "the world leader in rodent control technology," based in Madison, Wis. "An exclusive manufacturer of rodent control products, Bell Laboratories produces the highest quality rodenticides and other rodent control products available to the pest control and agricultural industries on six continents," the site, www.belllabs.com, boasts. If you want to beat a path to the other Bell Labs site, then you have to go through its parents house, Lucent Technologies site at www.lucent.com.

A Little Help?

The competitive local exchange carriers have their work cut out for them. Executives at the alternative telephone companies left standing say they need a little help from state utility regulators to even the financial playing field between them and the regional Bells. After all, the venture capitalists have rolled up their wads of cash and gone home. "Investors are not going to put money into something where they get 3 percent or 4 percent return on investment, when they can put it into the stock market and lose it a lot faster," Allen Hoopes, president and CEO of Silver Star Communications said last week at the Regional Oversight Committee meeting in Denver. "They have other options."

Slip of the Lip

When announcing Sun Microsystems new server line in New York last month, Sun co-founder Scott McNealy stumbled over the pronunciation of several competitors products, while having no difficulty in saying "Sun Fire 15K." An upcoming server competitor from IBM, code-named Regatta, became "Regretta" in the first McNealy malapropism, while Microsofts Outlook e-mail system got transposed to "Look out!" Arent you funny, Scoff — I mean Scott.

Nasty, Nasty

There is no love lost between Oracle and Siebel Systems, particularly when it comes to their war for the customer relationship management market. At Siebels annual users conference in Chicago last week, Siebel CEO Tom Siebel showed off the companys employee relationship management portal, complete with info on health care plans and benefits, performance reviews, training — and a few articles bashing Oracle. One claimed that most of Oracles recent CRM customer wins fell into the highly exaggerated or outright fabricated category. Later, at a press and analyst lunch, Siebel said Oracle was so desperate to win clients for its CRM software, it had resorted to either giving the systems away free, or paying customers to participate in a 90-day trial.

Maybe It Does Take a Rocket Scientist

Think computers are hideously complex? Intels own chief technology officer is with you. Pat Gelsinger, who was appointed Intels CTO in September — the first CTO in the companys 33-year history —- recently upgraded his home network, adding a few more hubs and PCs, and installing Microsofts Windows XP. Heres Gelsingers report on playing IT manager: "I only have six nodes, but it literally took me all weekend, plus a few phone calls to expert friends, to get it up and running." He adds with a wry chuckle: "And Im a reasonably sophisticated guy on this kind of stuff." This is the man who, among other things, was the chief architect of the 486 microprocessor in the late 1980s. Ill never again feel stupid in front of my computer.

Let Them Eat Cable!

Caution: loose cannon! At the Regional Oversight Committee meeting in Denver last week, Qwest Communications International Vice President Patrick Quinn told speakers — including Anne Boyle, vice chairman of the Nebraska Public Service Commission — on a panel to discuss rural telecommunications issues that broadband services are a big-city privilege that the regional Bells must be seriously motivated to deliver beyond big population centers. And even then, broadband over copper might not be a reasonable alternative to fat-pipe service delivered over cable or satellite. "If you choose to live on the top of a mountain in Colorado, you cant expect to have the same services as in the city," Quinn said. He said his brother, who lives on a farm in rural South Dakota, 18 miles from the nearest town of 450 people, trades commodities using his satellite broadband connection and is "willing to pay what he has to pay to get service." So let me get this straight: The answer to the rural telecommunications issue is to get the folks out in the boondocks to pay for the privilege? Gee, Patrick, I wouldnt count on a future in diplomacy.

The Freedom to Innovate

Microsoft says that during the past 12 months, it has released Office XP, its Tablet PC mobile device, its Xbox video game system and "a dozen new server applications" under its .Net initiative. Its Microsoft Network online service now gets 250 million unique users each month, and the company is getting ready to ship the latest version of its flagship operating system, Windows XP. Not bad for a company found guilty of being an abusive monopoly. In reference to the ongoing antitrust lawsuit, Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer say in a letter to shareholders that the company is "committed to continuing to deliver innovations to customers and new opportunities for partners and the technology industry as a whole." Its not their words that worry me; as always, its how Microsoft defines them.