E-tales: Microsoft softens on open source?

News that Microsoft will speak at next week's Open Source for National and Local eGovernment Programs in the US and EU conference has of course created general uproar in the open source community.

News that Microsoft will speak at next week's Open Source for National and Local eGovernment Programs in the US and EU conference has of course created general uproar in the open source community.

Some are considering boycotting its talk on the benefits of "shared source". Ah but look, say Microsofties, the (Redmond-led) Business Software Alliance has asked someone from the Free Software Foundation to speak at its conference. This isn't enough for some, who point out that inviting, say, Sun head Scott McNealy to speak might be a bolder attempt to gain the higher moral ground.

But we suspect it's all part of a grand plan. Microsoft strategy executive Peter Houston told the New York Times that the firm is changing its tactics, emphasising the benefits of its software as it sees it -- value for money and safety of investment -- rather than demonising an increasingly mainstream corporate choice. It's a start. Forrester Research analyst Ted Schadler, in a recent brief on open source, suggests Microsoft should articulate an open source strategy customers can understand and stomach. First steps? Make it easy for users to deploy Apache web servers in .Net environments, Schadler says.

Escape hatch

Who said IT managers don't have a sense of humour? Here's the voice mail message of one IT manager for a national chain store: "Hi, Captain xxxx here, you're flying xxxx Airways, I can't quite make it to the phone at the moment because the planes are crashing and I'm handing out parachutes. If you're a popular person you can ring me on my cellphone. If you don't know my cellphone number you're not popular, so leave a message."

Spam under a different name

Tsk tsk. When EDS told everyone late last year it was going to take its services offerings downmarket -- in terms of customer size, of course -- it was a teaser for a further announcement. That came a couple of weeks ago, with the company claiming to be the only one in the land offering "an end to end IT and business services solution" with the appointment of a bunch of business consultants. The company’s boss of the past few months, Rick Ellis, came to the post from TVNZ where he clearly learnt the art of the attention-grabbing headline. He certainly got IBM’s: a NOT FOR PUBLICATION email from Big Blue flopped into our inbox a day or so later inviting us to discuss EDS’s claim for "an alternative perspective". No thanks. We didn’t publish the original press release, nor will we print the follow-up.

Foreign relations

Waiting for the right suitor can pay off for smart "pure-play" software firms. A representative of MarketFirst, an online marketing automation software outfit (making the usual swooping visit down under), says PeopleSoft put in a bid for the company. But MarketFirst, based in Mountain View, in the heart of Silicon Valley, turned down PeopleSoft, despite it being a fellow Californian firm. It recently slotted into Vancouver-based CRM vendor Pivotal while PeopleSoft went on to buy competitor Annuncio.

Pressing his luck

Encountering another of those telephone interactive voice response "spell the first three letters of the surname" systems last week (see E-tales: Landlubber), it struck us that the IVR defintion of "spell" is rather out of date for the rising generation of cellphone texters.

Suppose, for argument's sake, Computerworld's switchboard is unattended and you are trying to get through to editor Anthony Doesburg. A seasoned IVR caller would type 323 for DOE, and let the system resolve ambiguity by, for example, suggesting "press 1 for Dodds or 2 for Doesburg."

A young texter, used to the multi-press style of cellphone letter generation, would be more likely to enter the sequence 3 (D) 666 (O) 33 (E). The IVR would only pick up 366 and give you a choice between the two Doobie brothers and Ms Emnopoulos.

This ambiguity clearly has to be tackled, but we have a feeling the first-cut solution will be: "If you wish to use the conventional name-spelling system, press 1; if you with to use the cellphone-style multi-press system, press 2."

View the source

We've heard "it's not a bug, it's a feature" and " the problem must be your PC setup/ISP". But the most novel explanation for a glitch in an online service came last week from Richard Jowsey, local developer of the in-beta Death2Spam (D2S) filter, who clearly watches too much Star Wars.

"There was a Disturbance in the Force over the weekend," he wrote to users beta-testing his service.

Tantrums and tiaras

While reviewing Dilbert's latest (forget about "author" Scott Adams; he's just a pseudonym for a shady global management collective trying the bread and circuses approach, we're sure), we came across some of his scarily real advice about tech prima donnas in the older The Joy of Work. While last year we advised IT managers give them the personal attention and feedback they need, be diplomatic and steer them in the right direction, Dilbert says prima donnas get away with their behaviour either because everyone thinks they may go on a killing spree, or that people foolishly believe "You get what you pay for".

You can become a prima donna in a few easy steps: never respond to questions, dress like a blind hobo, complain and yell without provocation, be mysterious and eccentric, don't return phone calls, mumble unintelligibly during meetings, draw absurdly complicated diagrams on whiteboards and go on interviews for fun.

Gen-i head Garth Biggs had more straightforward advice, saying building a happy team is as important for project managers as meeting budgets and timeframes. "If you are a prima donna, go somewhere else."

Headline act

Prolific Aussie telco analyst Paul Budde (he of "WAP is crap" fame -- though Computerworld actually said it rather than him) recently sent out a missive arguing that Telecom should exit Australia and sell its stake in AAPT, the third tier Aussie telco it has less-than-successfully invested in. As he so succinctly puts it, Telecom should "sell off AAPT ASAP". Is Mr Budde wasted in research and would he be better employed as a newspaper headline writer?

Mobile mobsters

The UK's direct approach to disabling lost or stolen mobile phones appears to be paying off. About 440,000 mobiles have been barred since all UK phone networks began sharing information on a single database, says Ananova.com. The phones' unique IMEI identity number is put on the database and blocked across all networks, making them useless even if the SIM card has been changed. The scheme is one part of a plan to crack down on crime. Research by the UK government's Home Office suggests that mobile phones are involved in nearly a third of all robberies and an estimated 700,000 were stolen in 2001.

Email Mark Broatch

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