The Users Column 5600 words
Jerry Pournelle firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright 1998 Jerry E. Pournelle, Ph.D.
I'm still learning about web sites. You can see just how much at www.jerrypournelle.com. Its mostly a text oriented site, so dont expect many whizbangs. On the other hand, its pretty quick to download, and most users think it looks all right. Darnell and David, my web advisors, arent so happy and are working on a redesign. Well see, but for the moment I do this all myself, and the goal is to be Good Enough.
The tools I have settled on are Microsoft Front Page 98, and WORD from Office 97. I will probably shift over to the beta version of Office 2000 this month. For the moment Office 98 does the work, but Office 2000 seems stable enough, and WORD 2000 handles html files a lot better than Word 97. My preliminary look makes me believe that Office 2000 is a worthwhile improvement on Office 97, as 97 was eventually an improvement on Office 95. I should have a good report next month.
Front Page has a bunch of tools and style sheets for making templates, but I don't use them. Instead I have created several blank pages laid out the way I want them: one for Mail, another for The View From Chaos Manor, and so forth, and when I want to create a new page I bring the page model into Front Page Editor, rename it by editing the page properties, and SAVE AS under the new file name. I can also cut and paste between pages open in Front Page 98 Editor, shifting material not only from page to page but among tables on the different pages. This all works splendidly and is very fast on Princess, my COMPAQ dual Pentium Pro 200 NT Workstation. Incidentally, although I have half a dozen computers, two at my personal work center, and they're all networked, I find I am doing more and more of my work on Princess. A dual Pentium 200 running under NT can get a lot done, and if you're looking for just one office computer, that would be a good choice at a reasonable price.
In practice I keep Front Page Explorer, Front Page Editor with two or three pages open in different windows, Netscape Communicator, Outlook 98, and Word 97 (again with two or three files open in different windows) open at all times. I do all my text creation in Word. As mail comes in I read the mail in summary in Outlook, and if I decide it's going on to the web page, I open it with a double-click. That puts it into a plain text file. I select and copy the text I want and paste it into a Word window, compose things the way I want them to look including font, font size, and color, then select, copy, and paste into one of the pages open in Front Page Editor. Except for my own replies to the mail all this takes less time than it has taken me to explain it.
I can also use Word in html mode to compose picture documents, importing images and writing captions. When thats all done I save the word.html document, and "import" it into Front Page Explorer, then open it in Front Page Editor, which has far better image manipulation tools. In particular, Front Page Editor has the "Autothumbnail" command. This automatically replaces the full size image with a thumbnail sketch of it, and links that sketch to the full size picture. Thumbnails download quickly, and if reader wants to wait for the full picture he can click on the thumbnail icon. You can see this illustrated in the "Picture Gallery" section of my web site.
When Im done creating and updating pages in Front Page Editor, I save them all, go to the Front Page Explorer window, hit the "PUBLISH" button, and go on to something else. Front Page takes care of everything, uploading all linked files to the right places.
There is one major Front Page annoyance: it wants to be connected to your web site, even though it is saving everything in local files on your local machine. In my case the web site is part of Darnell Gadberry's binmedia operation, and I don't have to know much about it. Unfortunately, if I ever become disconnected from the web site, Front Page Editor doesn't want to SAVE the work I have done; I have to "export" it in order to save a copy. The other possibility is to use Front Page Explorer to log back on to the Chaos Manor web site, after which Front Page Editor will save work again. There's probably a workaround to this annoyance, but it has been such a minor inconvenience that I have not bothered to look into what to do about it. One day, perhaps.
Last month I told you that a major annoyance with Outlook 98 was the enormous "pst" file that can't be parsed, edited, or backed up without shutting down Outlook. That turns out not to be the case: you can back up the outlook.pst file from within Outlook by using the "export" command. That also lets you copy off parts of the Outlook files as well. This isn't well documented in Outlook or in any of the third party Outlook books I have, but an inquiry to Microsoft got this reply from Judy Lew, Microsoft Outlook Product Manager.
"You can easily back up the entire PST or only specific folders within it by exporting data to another PST (and not have to shut down Outlook). Exporting is a convenient way to create a backup copy of a folder. When you export, the items in the folder are copied to the export file. To keep the PST from getting unmanageable, we also recommend that users auto-archive their information (under Tools. Options. AutoArchive). When you archive, the items in the folder are moved to the archive file. Starting with Outlook 98, auto-archiving occurs in the background so users can continue to work in Outlook while their old items are moved into an archive store.
"For more information on the Personal Folders File and specific steps on how to back it up, please go to: http://support.microsoft.com/support/kb/articles/Q182/0/62.asp."
It has been my experience that navigating the Microsoft web support site isnt always easy, but the payoff can be worth the effort.
Outlook 98 integrates well with Office 97, and even better with Office 2000. It's good enough that I may adopt it as my regular Personal Information Manager (PIM). The only reason I haven't done that yet is that I've been working with Franklin Ascend and my Palm Pilot. I had some quarrels with the latest versions of Franklin Ascend, but none of the problems involved the interface with the Pilot. That works welland I have discovered that I can't live without the Palm Pilot.
I'm a bit surprised at that. After all, over the years I have been given a peach crate full of little Personal Data Assistant (PDA) devices, and they're all gathering dust in the back room. When I decided to make a serious effort to use the Palm Pilot, I wasn't really expecting to fall in love with it; but I did.
Unlike the various Windows CE keyboard devices, the Palm Pilot is small enough to carry in a shirt pocket, and I sometimes carry it there. Usually, though, it resides in a belt pouch originally designed to carry a Day Timer. The Pilot doesn't use much battery power. Some Windows CE devices have battery life measured in hours; the Palm Pilot even with heavy use can run for weeks on a single pair of AAA batteries. You can cut that battery life significantly if you use the backlight feature a lot, but it will still be a long time before you have to worry about the batteries in a Palm Pilot. I like rechargeable batteries and Ive been using NiCads which I change weekly. NiCad batteries discharge fast once they start to get empty, so theres less warning of low battery power when you use them, and rechargeables may be more trouble than theyre worth. The Palm Pilot really is stingy on power use.
When I first started the Pilot experiment, someone advised me to get an Apple Newton Keyboard and the special cable that allows you to connect it to the Pilot. I almost did that, but before I sent in an order for the keyboard I realized that was foolish. The beauty of the Pilot is that you don't have to carry anything else: just that small unit that fits in a shirt pocket or belt pouch. It takes a few days to get proficient with Grafiti, the Pilot's handwritten recognition language, and longer than that to learn all the special strokes for punctuation and symbols like @ and &;, but once you learn them, entering text on the Pilot is at least as fast as printing it in ink in a notebook--and once you have that text entered, it can be read by your computer. You can then edit your notes, paste them into a document, and file them.
If I do want to type text into the Palm Pilot, it's easy enough to do with my laptop, and on reflection I dont think of anywhere I might go that Id carry a Pilot keyboard but wouldnt take my laptop. The real value of the Pilot is that it substitutes for notebook and paper, calendar, appointment book, and calculator, and I always have it with me. Instead of a Newton keyboard, Ive bought a Pilot cable to go in my briefcase so I can use the Pilot's "HOTSYNCH" feature to transfer information to and from my laptop. I suppose I could carry the little cradle that comes with the Palm Pilot, but thats a bit bulky.
The "HOTSYNCH" feature is what makes the Pilot so valuable. It's extremely easy to install on both your laptop and desktop, the only potential problem being if you have difficulty finding a free serial port. Fortunately, the Pilot's cradle (or cable) doesn't have to be connected to the port when you're not using it, so the Pilot and a modem or other serial device can share that port if you like. Once HOTSYNCH is installed, you drop the Pilot into its cradle, push the hotsynch button (on the cradle; or issue the hotsynch command in software if you're using a cable connector) and stand back. Everything on the Pilot goes into a program called Pilot Desktop on your PC, and everything you have put into Pilot Desktop is transferred to the Pilot. This includes dates, notes, calendar files, addresses, and everything else.
All this is easy to do. I recently went to Dragon Con, a science fiction convention in Atlanta, and when I took my exercise walk through Atlanta's streets I used the Pilot to make notes on scenery, people who might become characters in one of my novels, that sort of thing. It was easy to do, and when I got back to the hotel room I moved all those notes into my laptop. Now theyre distributed among projects I am working on.
You can also load books into the Pilot for reading on airplanes or while walking. Given a choice Id far rather have a real book, but it does work, and you can carry a lot of books on your laptops hard disk if space and weight are problems. There are also modem attachments, including a radio modem. Id hate to have to do it all the time, but you can manage your email with a Pilot, particularly if your replies tend to be short.
There's a lot more you can do with the Palm Pilot. You can learn a good bit about it from PALM PILOT: The Ultimate Guide, an O'Reilly book by David Pogue. If youre contemplating buying a Palm Pilot, get this book: it will help you with your decision, and youll definitely want the book and its CDROM of software when you do decide to buy a Pilot. Well worth the price.
I've also had recommended to me "The Palm Pilot CD-ROM for Windows," which you can get from email@example.com. I haven't yet seen this, but it comes recommended by people I respect; it's a disk of shareware. If you like the programs you send money to the writers. Ill get a copy and tell you about it next month.
All told, the Pilot seems to be changing my life for the better. Last minute addition: I have got the upgrade package that converts my Pilot Professional to a Palm III. Haven't installed it yet, but I have a soup can full of neat utilities for the Palm III, so we'll have more on that next month. For a look at some of the things available for the Pilot, go to www.pilotisland.com and have a look around. I've got some of their disks that those will also be in an upcoming column; for the moment I can only say I've heard good things about them, but haven't tried them.
Ive about given up using Windows 98. Its not that it doesnt work, although it does have a few quirks that Windows 95 doesnt; its just theres no real reason to use it. Theres little in Windows 98 that wasnt incorporated into the OSR2 version of Windows 95, and if there are any programs (other than a few games) that will run in 98 but not in 95 I dont know about them.
There do seem to be a few more drivers in 98, and while installations can be frustrating, some things will install in 98 that are nearly impossible with 95. On the other hand, Windows 98 absolutely HATES Word Perfect. It doesn't much like older versions of Franklin Ascend, either; but it can actually chew up and destroy Word Perfect files. That happened recently to the church secretary. She prefers Word Perfect because it has a booklet publishing feature built in, which Word does not (you need the separate program Publisher if you want to do booklets with Word). Against my advice she installed Windows 98; the result was that it began losing parts of her Word Perfect files, didn't want to print the service books properly, and in general was a disaster. Her attempts to uninstall 98 and go back to 95 didn't work either, and she ended up doing a complete reinstallation of Windows 95 plus all her utilities, and putting in all the files from backup. This was, she says, no fun at all.
My advice is to use NT for serious work, and I should have installed that at St. Mary's; of course the Compaq they use there (which they're very happy with) came with Windows 95 OSR2.
If youre one of the unfortunate few who need programs that work in Windows 9X but not NT, use whatever you have and dont bother to upgrade from OSR2. Windows 98 is the last of the Windows 9X programs anyway; pretty soon it will all be NT.
Meanwhile, there are some games that need Windows 98, and that might be a reason to upgrade; even there, Ive seen precious few that wont run just as well on Windows 95 OSR2. OSR2 can also give you Active Desktop if you happen to like that. I dont much care for it myself. Its a little prettier than the standard Windows desktop, but I dont spend a lot of time staring at my desktop.
If you have an older machine with an early version of Windows 95 it might be worthwhile upgrading to Windows 98, especially if you like the appearance of Active Desktop, and I suppose there may yet be applications that make use of whatever new features 98 has, but again I think of nothing compelling. On the other hand, while most Windows 98 installations seem to go smoothly enough Eric had no problems with it on Racing Cow, a Pentium 200 Gateway machine some have found it a nightmare. I certainly had some problems with CD/R recording CD drives, and even more with CD R/W. Those problems have been fixed with new drivers, but every now and then I hear horror stories about trying to install Windows 98 on a hundred office machines, then having to uninstall on each one, and restore everything to where it was.
Of course most people don't have that much trouble with Windows 98; but if you try it and come up with a disaster, don't say I didn't warn you.
Im building several new machines and one will be a Windows 98 box, but that has been delayed while I build a Linux box and install Red Hat Linux on it. I had hoped to have that done for this months report, but I ran into time problems. Ill start in on Linux as soon as I get this column off.
I use Microsoft Word, but some of its features are enough to drive me nuts. The other day I went up to the Monk's Cell it used to be my sons room, and theres no telephone or other interruptions there to work on Mamelukes, the next novel in the Janissaries series (Baen Books; the two that are out are Janissaries, and TRAN which incorporates both Clan and Crown and Storms of Victory). I've been rewriting the early part of the book, but I finished that and went to the end of text and the beginning of notes I keep at the end of the text. To separate the text from the notes I had drawn some equal signs === and Word had made them into a solid line. At first I didn't know how those awful lines got there. Worse, there were other solid lines in the text itself. These ran all the way across the page, and there were two at page breaks I had inserted between chapters. I didnt find them at every chapter ending, but they were at the end of a couple of them. When I tried to erase the lines, they wouldn't go away.
Backspacing over the line didnt delete that line at all; it would delete text from BEFORE the line. Also, I could select text above and below the lines and delete all of that. The text would go away but the lines were still there. Nothing I could do would delete them. OK, I thought, if I can't delete the lines, I'll leave them behind. I opened an empty Word document, and began to copy and paste from the original document to the new. That worked for a while, but when I got near the lines, the copy command began to pick them up even when I didn't select them, and there was no way to leave them behind. Eventually I got mad and pasted as much as I could bring over without lines, then retyped the parts I couldn't copy without getting those lines.
That was infuriating. The reason I started writing with computers was to avoid having to retype text I had already written! Here I was doing it again. I looked through every tab in the "Tools/Options" menu, but there was nothing about inserting crazy lines you can't erase. There was nothing in Help, at least not under and topic name I could think of. I turned on the Show/Hide button that supposedly shows all the formatting characters in your document, but doesn't; that didn't do a thing either. I was angry enough to abandon Word as my primary text creation editor.
Fortunately, I mentioned all this on my web site, and one of the readers told me how to avoid it in future. It seems it wasn't a bug but a feature
The feature is a formatting option called 'borders'. When this feature is on, when you type three equal signs or several dashes, Word fills in a line or border or box depending on what options you have selected. This feature is not particularly well documented, and worse, you can't find it in Tools/Options. You can't even find it by trying to reformat text. That is, if you select text that includes the lines and invoke Format/paragraph, you will not see anything that explains the lines, nor will reformatting get rid of the lines.
It is, however, on the format menu: pull down Format, select borders, and look at all three of the tabs that will show. On each of them select "none", and after that you won't get the crazy lines. Youre not done, though. Now pull down Format, select Autoformat, and click options. Select the tab "Autoformat as you type", and make sure that "borders" is not selected. Once borders is turned off in both places, you wont get any more. If borders is turned off in autotype but not in the other part of the autoformat options, you wont get undesired lines as you type, but theyll appear if you autoformat your document. Finally, sometimes converting a document from Word 97 to Word 95 format and back will not only produce crazy lines, but make them even harder to erase.
If you find you already have crazy lines, select the text that has them (or select the whole document), do Format/borders, select none, and they will all go away.
The borders feature seems to be "on" by default, and in the default mode its not so hard to erase the lines if you get them and dont want them. Once you understand how this feature works, it can even be useful. Just dont forget how to get rid of unerasable lines if, through converting to Word 95 and back again, you get some.
Im about to change computers in the Monks Cell where I write my fiction. The machine up there is Old Cow, an ancient Gateway 486 DX2 with 16 megabytes of memory. (Gateways cow spotted boxes suggested the name.) I upgraded Old Cow with an Evergreen upgrade chip, and that speeded him up something wonderful. in fact, Old Cow is fast enough for all I do up there. I run Word from Office 95, the InfoSelect 3 data base program, the interface for an Iomega parallel port ZIP drive, and the Franklin Ascend PIM program. They all work, if not lightning fast, certainly fast enough.
The problem is the disk drive: Old Cow came with a 200 megabyte hard disk. That seemed enormous at the time, and it has always been big enough for what I do, but now I want to upgrade some of those programs, and theres no room left.
The first versions of Word in Office 97 had a fatal defect: they did a horrible job of converting files to and from older versions of Word, including the version of Word in Office 95. That defect continued until early this year when version SR-1 of Office 97 came out. Microsoft offered this as a downloadable patch, or you could buy the CD. I got the CD. Since that came out, Office 97 has had no problems converting from and saving to older Word formats including the Office 95 format. Once I was sure of that I installed Office 97 SR-1 on most of my computers.
I couldnt put it on all of them. In particular, I cant put it on Old Cow because there really isnt enough room. I could, by deleting everything not needed for Word 97, make enough room, but it would still be barely enough; Id soon run into problems. Among other things there wouldn't be room for Palm Desktop, the interface for Palm Pilot.
Besides, Id have to delete a whole bunch of stuff like the sound files I amuse myself with (when Old Cow turns on, an announcer says "Stay tuned as Beavis and Butthead burn things and blow stuff up!"). I dont really want to do that: and worse, even if I did, I wouldnt have room to install Micrologics Infoselect 4 ( http://www.miclog.com ). Theres no really burning need for Infoselect 4; version 3 is quite good enough, actually, and I have recommended and used it for several years. Infoselect 3 is a free form data base that grew out of the old "Tornado Notes" and is still one of the easiest to install and use Windows note organizer programs I know. Recommended.
Version 4 has some improvements Ill get to those another time and I did install 4 on a couple of my machines, and once you do that and convert the files, you cant go back to 3. This means Ill either have to go back to Infoselect 3 on the other machines, or install 4 on Old Cow, and since 4 really is an improvement, and I would lose any notes I have made in 4 if I retrofitted to 3, I really do want to put Version 4 on Old Cow. Unfortunately, Old Cow doesnt have enough disk space for that upgrade in addition to Office 97.
Disk drives are cheap, and the obvious solution would be to install a new hard disk on Old Cow, but that turns out to be a big problem too: the BIOS for Old Cow doesnt recognize large hard disks. I can get a BIOS upgrade, but that will actually cost as much as the new hard disk. (Fry's now has IDE disk drives at about $30 a gigabyte.) Meanwhile, Old Cow uses an older form factor of memory I cant find any more. All told, its time to retire Old Cow to a high school. I cant complain though: that Gateway has lasted me a long time, and has been responsible for a lot of my work. Farewell, thou good and faithful servant
Im not sure what Ill replace Old Cow with, but it will probably be a WinChip system built up from scratch. I have a couple of WinChip mother boards and several chips. Disk drives are cheap. Ive had good experience with Winnie, the WinChip system I described last month which now serves as Larry Nivens workstation. The alternative is to carry Blurple, the big Intergraph TDZ 2000 240 mhz Pentium up there. That would certainly be reliable enough. I dont know which company, Compaq or Intergraph, makes the better machines, but I sure know they're both more than Good Enough, and I rely on them a lot. Blurple has Office 2000 installed, and its convenient to have him down here connected to the network for Office 2000 experiments, so Ill probably make another WinChip machine running Windows 95 OSR2 for the Monks Cell. More on that next month.
Flash: I bit the bullet and built a new system from the carcass of Pentafluge, the original Pentium machine that I built years ago when Pentium chips first came out. I used an Intel 133 Pentium and an EFA motherboard: the package was on sale at Fry's for $90. I put in an Adaptec ISA SCSI board and the 1 gig DEC SCSI drive that had been in Pentafluge, and stuffed it all into a PC Power and Cooling case. It took about a day to build up and get working, and it works just fine. I left a MaxStor 5 1/4" glass disk which had been in Pentafluge, and put on the parallel port Zip that had been on Old Cow. The video board is the same ATI PCI bus video board that had been in Pentafluge. I did have to put in a SIIG PCI sound card: the older genuine Creative Labs Sound Blaster that used to be in there was a full size card and the new EFA mother board simply can't accommodate full size cards: they'd bang in on the chip fan or power supply. More details next month or see The View From Chaos Manor on my www.jerrypournelle.com web site. It will be in the mid-September 1998 edition (View is organized by weeks, more or less).
I have often recommended the SyQuest SyJet 1.5 Gigabyte removable cartridge drive. It comes with good backup software, it installs easily, and it seems more rugged and reliable than the Iomega Jazz. Thus I was startled a few minutes ago when the SyQuest beep plaintively and spontaneously ejected its cartridge. So far as I could tell there was no reason for it to have done that.
Repeated efforts to reinsert the cartridge failed.
I have always had minor problems getting cartridges inserted in that drive, but I always thought that was because it is an external drive sitting on a table, so that it was hard to get a proper grip on it. It would sometimes take me several tries to get the disk to mount properly: Id insert it, and it would stay, but it wouldnt spin up. About the third try, though, it always worked, so I didnt do anything about it.
This time I couldnt get it to stay in at all: after several tries Id get it to spin up, but then it would beep and eject again. I have another SyJet in another machine so no data would be lost, but this was certainly not good news.
After a bit of thought I found a can of NU-TROL Control Cleaner Id bought the last time I was out at Frys. It claims to be safe for equipment that requires greaseless lubrication. I sprayed some of that into the drive, then I got a can of Diamond TF Zero Residue Solvent and sprayed in a shot of that to dry things. I let it sit a minute, then inserted the disk cartridge. It went in with a solid click and spun up, and its working fine. The moral of the story is that after a couple of years almost anything may need cleaning and lubricating. Just be careful to use the right stuff for maintenance.
Shortly after that one of my SyQuest SparQ IDE 1.0 gigabyte drives began to chatter and ceased working. A call to SyQuest got me a ten minute wait (on an 800 number and I put it on the speaker phone so it wasn't really a problem) and then a very courteous young lady who had me read the serial number from the drive; then bade me package it up and send it to them with an RMA number she furnished. I did that. I haven't yet got the new one they promised to exchange for it, but I don't anticipate problems. This isn't any special service: they didn't know who I was, and the reason I did this was a reader had sent me email saying that was what he did. New drives for old The IDE SparQ works just fine; I have one in a system with an internal IDE Zip drive as well, and both work without fighting.
The game of the month is Total Annihilation Battle Tactics, an add-on for Cavedogs utterly absorbing real time strategy game Total Annihilation ( www.cavedog.com ). This cost $17 on sale at Frys but the real cost is the time it uses playing it. It adds a bunch of new missions and campaigns. I particularly like the way they have arranged missions so you can choose short, medium, or very long games. If you like real time strategy games, youll like Total Annihilation.
The movie of the month is PI, directed by Darren Aronofsky. Theres a much longer essay on the movie at my web site. PI is the oddest movie I have seen in several years, and I think all computer enthusiasts will like it. Be warned, there are both serious and farcical elements in this picture, and its not always easy to decide which is which. The characters are supposedly very smart, but when they play the Japanese national game of GO, they play very badly. No one remarks on this: you have to be a GO player to notice that it isn't a very good GO game. Similarly, part of the plot hinges on ancient Hebrew scholarship. They have much of it so wrong that they must have known what they were doing.
There are other hilarious 'mistakes'. They have LSIC chips in about 1965 (the period of the movie) and the leader of the stereotyped villanous capitalists is a black woman. You will have to see the "mainframe" computer to appreciate that particular joke, but don't miss it. And did you know you can fix a circuit board with a quarter-inch drill? In other words, while some of those howlers might have been accidents or ignorance, there are just too many: the director had to know what he was doing.
The result is a darkly hilarious movie. Niven and Roberta and I laughed all the way through it, startling some of the film students I saw it on opening night after a speech by the Director who gave no hint that the picture was supposed to be funny. Most of the audience took it deadly seriously, but in fact you cant take it seriously. Watch out for the "main frame" computer. When you see what theyre referring to, I guarantee youll laugh your head off.
Recommended, but do realize that while there is dark Kafkaesque humor in this film, PI is also pulling your leg.
The computer book of the month is the OReilly book Office 97 Annoyances. Youll learn enough to save the price of the book in the first five chapters. All about annoying quirks and how to fix them, and you really need this book. Also, do get the O'Reilly book on the Palm Pilot; you can learn enough from the book to decide whether you want to buy a Pilot, and if you do buy the Pilot you will want the book.
I dont recommend the most important book I read this month, despite all the hypeits sure to become a best seller because of the timeliness and importance of the subject matter. Thats just the problem: the subject is important, but you wont learn the truth here.
The book is The MICROSOFT FILE: The Secret Case Against Bill Gates by Wendy Goldman Rohm (Times Business, ISBN 0-8129-2716-8), and while it may have some facts in it, the book is so biased against Gates, and so full of petty and irrelevant insults, that its very hard to determine whats real and what isnt. For example, many of the "secrets" are reports on conversations at which only two people were present. We are told a lot about what happened between Gates and a pretty girl named Stefanie Reichel who worked for Microsoft Europe. Were even told how she felt about these events, and there are dark hints of sexual harassment of an employee by her boss. However, she is never quoted, nor is there any source information at all: this book is as devoid of notes as a National Enquirer article. How Wendy Goldman Rohm managed to find out what Gatess former girl friends feel about him isnt told.
As it happens, I have known Gates since 1979 or so, and I know a couple of the girls he used to date before he was married. One is a good friend. Ive never asked, and theyve never told me, what happened on their dates, nor would I expect to be told. Its not my business, or yours.
The book is full of quotes, but its never clear where they came from. When the Department of Justice threatened to fine Microsoft $1 million a day, within minutes people were quipping all over the Internet that Gates made more than that in an hour. Wendy Goldman Rohm reports that Gates himself thought the fines were a joke, laughed, and bragged "Every two and a half hours I make a million!" This is highly unlikely for several reasons. First, its not true: $1 million every 2.5 hours is 9.6 million a day or $3.5 billion a year, and both Microsoft and Gates have more revenue than that. Second, in twenty years and more I have known him, Gates has never bragged about how much money he makes; why would he start now? Third, even if he did, he wouldnt say it in front of anyone who is going to repeat that story to Wendy Goldman Rohm.
Theres a lot more like that: information that she is unlikely to have any reliable source for is given as if it were signed, witnessed, and notarized, and moreover given in a breathless tone that implies high truthbut there is never any source given. Yet, when it comes to some really interesting stories such as how Microsoft rather than Digital Research happened to be the company to produce an operating system for the IBM PC she doesnt seem to have a clue as to the real story. She has a hint about Gary Killdalls name being embedded in DOS 1.0 (it was!), but she doesnt know how or why, and she implies that Gates knowingly pirated DOS from Digital Research, which isnt true at all. The real story is a lot more interesting than that.
Rohm tells us a lot about what goes on in the Federal Trade Commission. In particular she tells us whats happening from the view of a staffer called DArtagnan, real name Steve Newborn, who was instrumental in transferring the Microsoft case from FTC to Justice. The first time we hear of Newborn we are told that DArtagnan had kissed someone in the elevator; the someone turns out to be newly appointed Federal Trade Commissioner Deborah Owen, who is described as wearing slinky skirts slit thigh high, and whose clothing style and amatory habits seem to have been more important to the FTC staff than the work they were being paid to do. Whether DArtagnan had an affair with a Commissioner, and whether that influenced the Commissioners vote, isnt told.
And thats the problem with this book. Sometimes she tells stories that, if true as told, are very damning to Microsoft as a company and Gates as a person. A few are shocking. Alas, there is never any more evidence for the truth of those stories than for the truth of the fictionalized mood pieces.
We hear that "In early November the rolling hills outside Doug Solomons window hung with fog. Banks of mist were shifting Plate glass caught his reflection. Solomon, Apples senior vice president of strategic planning and corporate development, was six feet tall, and balding, with a gray beard and oversized glasses. He hated his appearance in Apples annual corporate reports "
Which is pretty lousy writing as fiction, and Im not quite sure how it adds to the believability of reports on what Solomon said in meetings and in memos. Who is the source here? Solomon? Someone else who was at the meeting? Or someone who heard the story third hand? We dont know and we wont find out.
This book would be a pretty good starting set of notes for an investigation of Microsoft. You could follow the tales and try to see which ones could be confirmed. Some are quite damning. But without confirmation and sources, the book is simply a diatribe, a setting out of every nasty story anyone ever told about Gates and Microsoft, complete with geeky tales of bizarre behavior. There are speculations about Gatess motives presented as unquestionable fact, but there are never any sources. In other words, as fiction its pretty dull, and as journalism its pretty worthless, on par with the National Enquirer. You can see more of my opinion of this book on myweb site.
Next month, back to building a WinChip machine to run Windows 98, a lot more on using Office 2000, more Pilot software and upgrades, Linux, and with luck some books I do recommend.