Operator No. 9: March 19, 2001

That Steve Ballmer sure gets around.

Busy Ballmer

That Steve Ballmer sure gets around. Last Monday morning, Microsofts chief executive was on a conference call with eBays Meg Whitman to announce that the popular auction service had signed on as a supporter of its .Net platform — a set of technologies Microsoft is proposing for integrating Web sites, services and devices. That afternoon, Ballmer was a speaker at ACM1 in San Jose — a gabfest where computer scientists and other visionary types expound on the future of technology. Ballmer talked about what Microsoft Research is working on, including the RingCam, a low-cost videoconferencing solution that captures and records a 360-degree view of talking heads that can be broadcast live or on demand. Users can add annotations to the video stream. All I could think of was how those pesky internal e-mails got Microsoft execs in trouble during the antitrust saga. Does Microsoft really want to capture its internal meetings on video? Im sure the Department of Justice would be an interested viewer.

Is Napster Delusional?

At a press conference last week, Napsters interim chief executive, Hank Barry, had to answer some tough questions, including whether the company had enough money to pay damages to all the companies that have sued the online file sharing service. Barry noted, of course, that its still early in the game and no trial has yet taken place. But he also hinted at the companys legal position; he seemed to interpret the recent 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals opinion as saying Napster was not liable for contributory copyright infringement unless it received knowledge of specific infringing files — the key word is specific — and failed to take any action. He went on to note that Napster received such knowledge only last week. Good luck in court, Hank.

¡Viva La Revolución!

Net marketing consultant Michael Tchong is waging a one-man attack against the "viral lack of confidence" in the Internet economy. Hes urging people to boycott offline retail stores on April 3, which Tchong calls "Back the Net Day" in the call to arms posted on his site at www.iconocast.com. Writes Tchong: "We must band together and send the world a loud, clear message that the Net will not only survive, but thrive." Whatever you say, comrade.

"We Have No Intention of Creating a Mean Organization."

— Vinton Cerf, chairman of the board at the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, last week in Melbourne, Australia, at an ICANN meeting, in response to a fellow board members recommendation that it try to become a more "lean-and-mean" organization. Given the ongoing controversy over ICANNs doings, Id have to say, Vint, the mean part is debatable.

0 5 9

The number of days — as of March 19 — that President George W. Bush has been in office and without a technology adviser.

A Programmers Work Is Never Done

Theres a new definition of BIND — the Berkeley Internet Name Domain — circulating to describe the open source code implementation of the Internet Domain Name System. In light of the many years of work on BIND, along with the frequent patching of holes — four new ones were announced Jan. 29 — Internet wags have decided that BIND really stands for "BIND is never done." Engineer humor.

Pouring Salt in the Wound

EMI New Media is holding its second annual "worldwide new media conference" in New Orleans May 1 to 3. The company has invited various online music businesses to exhibit at the event, called The Samit Summit II. Incredulous laughter erupted at many of these companies, which have been trying without success to get reasonable licenses from EMI and the other major record labels for their song catalogs. So let me get this straight: While many Internet music businesses are going under — thanks to the uncooperative labels — EMI is asking them to squander their remaining cash by sponsoring or exhibiting at its event? Gee, maybe EMI executives will let the foundering Internet companies buy them lunch, too.

Bad P.R.

A public relations rep for a new dot-com company interrupted an interview while the chief executive was being questioned about the economics of the business to say: "We are getting away from the point. These are really cool sites. The people who are running them are really enthusiasts. You should go check them out." If thats the point — and talking about the business model isnt — its no wonder the New Economy is in trouble.

Its a Regulated, Regulated World . . .

Last March, Denver analyst group Janco Partners invited reporters to its annual Institutional Investor Telecommunications Conference and then slammed the door shut on a number of company presentations. I can hardly expect you to work up much sympathy for a bunch of reporters left cooling their heels in the lobby of the posh Vail Cascade Club. But you gotta wonder what Janco was thinking this year when it put out the word that some sessions might be closed to media and didnt make arrangements for the executive fireside chats to be Webcast. Its a post-reg world, baby, which means if youre gonna tell a handful of analysts and institutional investors, youve got to tell the people, too. By the time the conference opened last week, only AMC Entertainment and EchoStar Communications were taking their chances with closed-door presentations, and many of the rest of the companies had rushed to arrange Webcasts on their own. One mouthpiece for a presenting company that shall remain unnamed explained it this way: "Janco could give a [expletive deleted], because its the companies that get dinged by the SEC [Securities and Exchange Commission], not [Janco]," for not sharing all information with the public.

Living in Denial

On Jan. 25, Microsoft said its site had been the target of denial-of-service attacks. The attacks occurred the day after Microsofts Domain Name System servers had gone down due to a technicians error. Security specialists found the coincidence curious. Theyve been asking each other since whether Microsofts story about the denial-of-service attacks was true. Steve Hotz, chief technology officer at UltraDNS offers an alternate explanation: He says Microsoft refreshes its address in DNS recursive servers — the ones given the first chance to respond to a user query — every 12 hours. The 22-hour outage Jan. 24 meant the Microsoft address "had timed out in all the worlds recursive servers caches," Hotz says. Also, the refresh process would normally be scattered over a 24-hour period, but on the morning of Jan. 25, thousands of DNS servers would have been polling Microsofts DNS servers, asking, "Are you there?" Still with me? Odds were also that the traffic was building because no answer came back. As a result, once the Microsoft DNS servers were brought back on line, the "Are you there?" queries streaming in looked like a hack attack.

Dont Touch That Mouse!

Steve Ballmer found out firsthand that just because lots of people trust you with their PC data, it doesnt mean they trust you to know how to use the technology. At the start of his ACM1 presentation, Ballmer was ready to cue up his PowerPoint — what else? — slides and found he was mouseless. "They used to give me a mouse. Now they give me a clicker that turns on a light that tells someone else to click the mouse." Hey, Steve, that could be a Zen description of the .Net strategy — delegating interaction to someone else. Think youre confused now? Go read all about how .Net is supposed to work at www.microsoft.com/net if you really want to be confused.