Operator No. 9: November 5, 2001

Now this doesn't inspire confidence: Microsoft, which should have a little bit of money for R&D, testing and marketing, issued a statement last week saying it made a boo-boo in the browser flap regarding MSN.

Oops, They Did It Again

Now this doesnt inspire confidence: Microsoft, which should have a little bit of money for R&D, testing and marketing, issued a statement last week saying it made a boo-boo in the browser flap regarding MSN. To recap: When users of non-Microsoft browsers tried to access the redesigned MSN earlier this month, they were shut out. Bob Visse, director of MSN marketing, said the upgraded site supported "the latest W3C [World Wide Web Consortium] standards. . . . If customers choose to use a browser that does not tightly support W3C standards, then they may encounter a less than optimal experience." Users, he said, should download the latest version of Microsofts Internet Explorer browser. But after getting an earful from customers, Microsoft admitted it might have made a mistake. "In response to customer feedback," Visse said, Microsoft had "looked into this issue further and determined that we had wrongly classified some browsers as unknown. The decision to block anyone from the site was clearly in error." Uh huh.

Stamping Out Anthrax?

With everyone going postal over the anthrax scare, the pundits are predicting a pickup in e-mail — especially around the holidays. Seems holiday cards sent via snail-mail might be politically incorrect, not to mention unhealthy, which translates into potential boom times for online greetings sites, manufacturers of digital cameras and scanners, and who knows what else. While the Internet economy can use all the help it can get, I get depressed thinking of anthrax as an economic catalyst.

Pick Your Poison

I dont know whether to be intrigued or horrified by this. Storydata.com, a site that offers a variety of tools to let people analyze the numbers behind the news headlines of the day, features a tool to calculate the economic impact of bioterrorism. You can look at the projected costs of a widespread anthrax outbreak, including lost productivity, hospitalization, outpatient visits and costs for treatment. The tool lets you compare those against the projected costs of other bioterrorist attacks. Seems an anthrax outbreak is five times as costly as an outbreak of tularemia — whatever the heck that is. The costs of a bioterrorist attack on a population of 100,000 range from $478 million to $26.2 billion. Sometimes the Web can provide too much information.

Reading the LVLT Leaves

Reporters just cant stand to wait. In the hours that preceded Level 3 Communications third-quarter earnings call, it was beginning to feel like something more was up than just beating Wall Streets projections. And when nary a leak from the Broomfield, Colo., headquarters could be found, I went looking for info in the gutter — Yahoo!s message boards. The usual pornographic screed prevailed, but were those hints in some of the cleaner headlines? "Go Big Red?" "Sooners have to play second fiddle? "NU, OU stats — Huskers win, even Buffs win?" And "Husker Power?" Was it code for some deal going down between Colorados Level 3, Nebraskas Warren Buffett and Williams Communications in Tulsa, Okla.? Alas, twas only bored short sellers ranting about Big 10 football.

Oh, Fred

How far should you move your computer backwards when youre backing up the hard drive? Does a computer get heavier as you load more software? These are questions fielded by beleaguered IT help folks; they were culled from winning entries to the Fred story contest, sponsored by CDW Computer Centers. The contest was built from CDWs advertising campaign, which features an unseen IT pro named "Fred" being called upon to solve computer problems caused by clueless co-workers. The five winning stories include one by Robert from Charleston, N.C., who wrote about a co-worker who thought his laptop was getting heavier because he was adding more software to it; and another by Bob from Appleton, Wis., who told of a worker who thought IT could see through her laptop screen. My favorite: Donna from Hoffman Estates, Ill., wrote about a co-worker who, when asked to back up his computer to protect data, moved the computer further back on his desk.

Slow-Moving Feds

The FBI is quick as a whip, but the Navy and the Air Force? Fuggedaboudit. Thats the message from a performance survey of federal government Web sites conducted by Keynote Systems and Federal Computer Week, a trade magazine dedicated to government IT. The survey found that the FBIs site was the fastest in all of government, followed closely by the sites of the Library of Congress, the Supreme Court and the House of Representatives. All of these sites took less than a second to load, on average, during several days this month. The Social Security Administration was dead last, but the Navy, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the National Park Service and the Air Force werent much better, taking from eight seconds to 12 seconds, on average, to load. One appalling statistic: The federal governments much-championed "portal," www.firstgov.gov, was accessible only 70 percent of the time, the worst accessibility rate of all sites surveyed.

Who Wants to Be Bill Gates?

At the New York launch of Windows XP, Microsoft enlisted curmudgeonly Regis Philbin to demonstrate that the new operating system is brainlessly simple to use. Philbin, who claimed he is so computer-illiterate that he has trouble even turning on a PC, ran Bill Gates through a mock round of questions in Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? format. Quipped Philbin sarcastically to Gates: "Yeah, if anybody needs a million dollars, its you."

Purple Haze

Got an e-mail telling me to check out www.jihad.net, where I read a very moving "Moment of Silence" dedicated to all those affected by the Sept. 11 attacks. Then I clicked to "enter" the site and found myself in a world centered on dissecting — figuratively, not literally, necessarily — Barney, the purple dinosaur of Public Broadcasting System fame. What? Go see for yourself.

The Fat Lady Sings

Not everyone was buying Microsofts line that it had mistakenly shut out competing browsers from its redesigned MSN site. After Microsoft said MSN.com would work only with browsers that supported the latest World Wide Web Consortium standards, competitors — such as Opera Software, maker of the free browser, Opera — shot back. "Opera is internationally acclaimed for its strict compliance with all Internet standards," Opera CEO Jon von Tetzchner said. "Maybe Microsoft should take a look at its lack of respect for the World Wide Web Consortiums standards before bad-mouthing others." Microsoft was contrite, saying, "We wish to reiterate our strong support for the Web specifications developed and supported by the World Wide Web Consortium and the software industry." But I wonder how many online users switched to Internet Explorer because of the MSN glitch.