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Dean Pannell (a.k.a. Dinotrac): Bill's New Toy

Oct 18, 2000, 07:24 (20 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Dean Pannell)

WARNING: Satire Ahead, Proceed With Caution

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Bill's New Toy
By Dean Pannell (a.k.a. Dinotrac)

News item: Microsoft Invsests $135 Million (U.S.) in Corel

I couldn't believe it. There I was, standing in the Redmond office of the world's most famous Billionaire. He looked at me suspiciously, which was reasonable, I guess, since I had gotten there by hijacking a pizza delivery. When I asked ask for an interview about his recent investment in Corel and what it would mean for WordPerfect, Corel Linux, and the WINE project, he just looked toward the ceiling and shook his head in that "Why me, Lord?" way. Then, as if getting an answer, he brightened up.

"Oh, what the heck. Come on in. I want to set the record straight on that mess anyway. I've got to step out for a minute, but I'll be right back." He turned to an earnest looking young man seated on a leather sofa. "Toadie, take care of our guest."

With that, he left.

"Would you like something to drink," the young man asked.

"I don't want to trouble you, but a half-caf half-decaf half-skim half-half-and-half latte with just a dash of cinnamon would be nice."

He nodded and begin whipping up my latte.

"Tell me, why do you let him get away with calling you 'Toadie'?" I asked. "Don't you find that awfully demeaning."

Toadie, er, the young man's reaction was immediate and incredulous.

"Demeaning my ass. First of all, Toadie is my name. He paid me $5 mil to change it, and that's just fine with me. When's the last time anybody paid you $5 mil for anything, pizza boy? Not only that, I get to keep everything that falls into the sofa cushions."

I was caught off-guard, but not ready to surrender. "OK, if you want to be Toadie, I guess that's your right. But diving through sofa cushions for spare change? That's stooping a bit low, isn't it?"

Exasperated, Toadie shook his head, then motioned for me to join him at the window. Even in the dim Redmond sun, the glare from his diamond-encrusted Piaget was blinding. He pointed to a huge estate atop a hill in the distance, surrounded by walls and a formidable wrought-iron gate.

"Is that where he lives?" I asked.

"No, you idiot. That's my house. All paid for, too.  Got it from Sofa cushions."

I was speechless. Fortunately, the Billionaire returned to rescue me from my embarrassment.

"All right, let's talk Corel," he said.

Relieved to be back on topic, I began. "A lot of people are very suspicious of your investment in Corel. After all, they make WordPerfect Suite, the best known competitor to Office, not to mention a Linux distribution aimed at Windows users."

The Billionaire laughed like one of those hick extras in an old "Hee-Haw" segment.

"You Linux geeks slay me. Man, I can tell you, it was nothing like that."

He was red in the face from laughing. Toadie stood poised to administer CPR.

"It's kind of funny, actually. I wasn't planning to buy the company."

"You weren't?" Suspicious, I kept listening.

"Nah. Never even considered it. All I wanted was to write another book. Since all of that DOJ nonsense started, I've had trouble sleeping at night. I watched an awful lot of informercials, an awful lot. I thought I should put that time to good use."

"Go on," I interjected.

"Well, half of those infomercials are two-bit hucksters selling the secrets of getting rich. If those petty ante con artists nobody's heard of can make money doing that, I figured that I should really clean up. I started writing 'The Billionaire's ten steps to Fabulous Wealth.' I've been typing it up myself. TakeDictation was willing to work nights with me. She's young and can afford to be flexible, but Mrs. Bill pitched a fit when she found out.

I nodded sympathetically. My wife would've put my head on a trophy wall.

"Anyway, I sat down and started to write it using Word. Big Mistake. Big Mistake.

First, I define a bunch of styles to do all the things I need. First, my machine slows to a crawl. Then, some of the styles start "sticking". I finally reached my limit after getting back from a road trip. I lost two nights trying to merge the file I'd written on the road with my main document. The formatting for the whole book got horsed up. Finally, I found a section break hidden near the end of the file I was merging in. One stupid section break and my document screws the pooch. I can't believe we get good money for this crap."

Startled by his frank admission, I ask, " Does that embarrass you?"

The Bill looked as if he didn't understand my question. "Embarrass me? Are you crazy? The people shelling out good money for this crap are the ones who should be embarrassed. It gets better. Did you say you followed Linux?

I nodded.

"Hah! What's the number one reason corporate types say they can't use Linux on desktops? Office, man! Office! Can you believe it? First we get 'em to pony up big bucks for this crap. Then, they lose who knows how much time and money trying to work around stupid things like styles that won't take, pictures that disappear and section breaks that infect whole documents. Along comes a new system that offers real hope of climbing out of the whole mess, and they won't try it unless you promise they can keep wallowing in the same awful crap. Do You still think I should be embarrassed?"

Again, I nodded.

"Hell no. I'm proud as I could be. We must be freakin' geniuses to pull this off. Mind you, knowing that General Motors uses this stuff gives me a creepy feeling every time I ride in a Cadillac, but Ford and DaimlerChrysler use it, too. I still need to check on Lexus and BMW.

I was shocked, and I'm sure my face showed it. The Bill just sat there with a proud little smirk as he continued.

"Anyway, after looking all over for the 'Reveal Codes' option, I gave up and left a note for KeepMeOrganized to buy WorPerfect. Unfotunately, KeepMeOrganized was going on vacation the next day, so she gave the note to my lawyer's secretary, TakeCrapfromtheLawyers. Next day, I boot up and there's no WordPerfect. I get on the phone and give TakeCrapfromtheLawyers a piece of my mind. Two minutes later, her boss, SueThemProtectMe, is in my office.

"Bill," he says, " we picked it up yesterday. Best $135 million we ever spent, too."

Old SueThem looked puzzled when I asked him why nobody had bothered to install it for me."

I couldn't believe my ears when the Bill said that. "You mean you thought you had paid $135 million for a copy of WordPerfect?"

"I figured it was a site license. Isn't that what we get for Office these days? Besides, $135 million isn't that much money these days. I'll bet Toadie finds more than that in the sofa cushions."

Toadie looked up and nodded. "It would have to be a really good day, though," he said.

The Bill continued.
"I guess the joke was on me. I owned a quarter of the company and still didn't have a copy of WordPerfect on my computer. We did get a few goodies out of the deal. They let us off the hook on their lawsuit and agreed to develop stuff for .NET. Best of all, SueThemProtectMe got them to throw in a free copy of WordPerfect. I'm really wailing on that new book now."

The Bill gestured towards the door with his head. Toadie got up to escort me out. Out in the hallway, I asked him a question that had been bothering me, "Toadie, with all the money you've picked up, why do you stay in this job?"

Toady was aghast. "Are you nuts? This is a great job. You want to meet someone with a lousy job? I can take you down the hall and introduce you to BootLick."

I declined his offer and headed home, wondering if anyone would buy this story.

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