Operator No. 9: June 25, 2001

Everyone's talking about the impending end of the Microsoft antitrust trial, except, it seems, Steve Ballmer.

The Powers That Be

Everyones talking about the impending end of the Microsoft antitrust trial, except, it seems, Steve Ballmer. Microsofts CEO met last week with Vice President Dick Cheney in an unscheduled "meet and greet." According to reports, the two agreed not to discuss the governments antitrust case, on which an appeals court is expected to rule at any moment — if it hasnt already. In addition to education, trade and taxes, what else could these two guys have to talk about? Maybe how theyre both one heartbeat away from being the most powerful man on the planet. Ill let you decide whether you think Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates or U.S. President George W. Bush wields more power.

Knight Errant?

Queen Elizabeth II may have started a trend. On June 16, she awarded IBM Chairman and CEO Lou Gerstner an honorary knighthood for his work on education initiatives in the U.K. and elsewhere. Surely other tech chaps deserve new monikers. Perhaps Oracle Chairman and CEO Larry Ellison should be rechristened the Prince of Pompous, given the $100 million castle hes building on 23 acres of primo real estate in Silicon Valley. Apple Computer CEO Steve Jobs, who last year got a pay package worth more than $800 million, could be the Duke of Dough. And Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates, who is adding onto his 48,000-square-foot manse in Medina, Wash., could be the Earl of Excess.

Mirror, Mirror

If you notice someone gazing longingly into his or her Palm device, dont be frightened, says BeautyBiz, a Womens Wear Daily magazine. Theyre probably just using Mirror, an application that turns the screen of their Palm black so the surface becomesreflective. Developed by Bill Westerman, Mirror is the No. 1 "freeware" applicationat Handango, a site about wireless handheld computing.

Slip of the Lip

Hasso Plattner, SAPs co-chairman, was in a good mood at the start of the big-business software companys user conference in Orlando, Fla. He began by bashing Oracle and talking about the need to be open and tie in with other software, even rivals such as Oracle. Perhaps Plattner got a bit overconfident, for he shortly introduced Compaq Computer CEO Michael Capellas as CEO of Oracle. Capellas declined the position, but the offer turned into a running theme for the rest of the opening events. Perhaps Plattner has Oracle on the brain?

:Cuecat Purrs No More?

The Internets not-so-favorite feline companion may soon run out of lives. DigitalConvergence, which makes the :CueCat — a pen-sized device in the shape of a cat that attaches to the PC and scans bar codes that link directly to Web sites — laid off most of its 225-person litter. The cat still has a few lives left, however, as DigitalConvergence promises to live up to its contracts with investors Belo and NBC parent company General Electric. Representatives say the company has not euthanized its options yet, and is even trying to attract new business.

1 5 7

Number of days — as of June 25 — that President George W. Bush has been in office without naming a director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Hello? Hello?

Voice-over-Internet Protocol has really started gaining steam, with some companies rolling out devices that let you make a call over your broadband connection. Others are introducing fancier, Session Initiation Protocol phones. Its really the next great thing in telephone technology. The next, next great thing — and Im counting on all you script kiddies — will be viruses that take advantage of the most gee-whiz features of the new technology, such as the Java-enabled Web interfaces included on some SIP phones. "Im just waiting for the first Java virus for SIP phones to come out and redirect all of your calls to Bulgaria," jokes Stefan Knight, director of product marketing at CopperCom, a voice-over-broadband company. Dont laugh. It could happen.

In Perspective

William Dean Singleton, renowned tightwad and owner of a chain of newspapers, walked on stage at the convention center in New Orleans to deliver a keynote speech at Nexpo to a sparse group of technology leaders from the newspaper industry. "OK, cheer up. You could be working for a radio station where ad revenue for the first quarter was down 8 percent. Newspapers were down 4.8 percent. Or in TV, where they are down 15 percent. Or a dot-com where the ad revenues never were there. Frankly, we suck less," he said. A dubious achievement, but an achievement nonetheless, I suppose.

Palm to Palm

Michael Jordan can palm basketballs. PTN Media thinks he can sell Palm handhelds, too. The company announced last week that it will pay the former National Basketball Association legend $1 million this year and $1.25 million for the next two years for the privilege of putting Jordans name on Palms m100 and m500 handhelds. PTN founder Peter Klamka says that Jordan and "volume will go together forever and ever. The guy has sold more sneakers than anyone on the planet." Yeah, so? PTNs last brilliant idea was a powder-blue Palm emblazoned with the name of supermodel Claudia Schiffer, a model it stopped selling a few weeks ago. As for Jordan, his name hasnt been golden everywhere. MVP.com, the online venture that Jordan backed with other sports stars, including John Elway, was sacked a few months ago. And the Washington Wizards, the NBA team that Jordan co-owns, finished the season with 19 wins and 63 losses.

The Powers That Wanna Be

If the oddsmakers are right and Microsoft wins its case on appeal, were all going to have to get used to seeing a lot of new technologies bundled into Windows XP, the next version of the companys operating system. But not everyone is happy about it. Industry pundit Dave Winer, upset over a potential feature in XP and Internet Explorer that lets Microsoft add its own links to Web content, is launching a campaign to get online users to use a non-Microsoft browser on Fridays. According to Winer, 75 percent of the 1,000 participants in a recent survey said that theyd be willing to make Fridays an IE-free browsing day. Others, such as lawyer Lewis A. Mettler at LAMLaw.com, have posted a notice prohibiting users from accessing their sites with the Microsoft technology. Thats like saying you cant drive on the highway with a foreign car, but it does make for an interesting Web.