Packet Rat: Rat won't tolerate any bull from Redmond

'This is the biggest gathering of vaporware developers since ... well, the last Microsoft Developers Conference,' the Rat sighed as he slid through the crowd at Microsoft Corp.'s recent coder shindig.

The faithful were on hand in Los Angeles for the first view of the next desktop version of Windows, code-named Longhorn. The question on everyone's lips: Would this be a trick, a treat or a big pile of manure?

Early exposure of the operating system is a change for the software giant, which usually keeps its OS releases under wraps until the first beta versions are near completion. By then most features are locked down, if not implemented.

This time around, the company says it wants early feedback from developers on what to do to improve the OS.

'We want to have an operating system you can't hate,' Longhorn evangelist Robert Scoble noted on Longhornblogs.com, a Microsoft-run weblog that urges visitors to trash the early versions of the OS'in a constructive way, of course. 'Well, Mr. Scoble, be careful what you ask for,' the Rat snickered. 'You might just get it.'

Sure enough, the Scobleizer'as he is affectionately known by colleagues and bloggers alike'has since been hammered by a host of people willing to heed his call for opinions on 'how to hate Microsoft.'

Most people don't need instructions for that. One developer offered: 'How to start hating Microsoft: Run Windows Update and watch it install the German version of Internet Information Server on your desktop.'

But most of Scoble's responses sound like business as usual from Microsoft. When asked about using open standards and making Microsoft's own standards open, Scoble answered, 'We're not a charity.'

One message that seems to be coming loud and clear from the developer community: Punt on digital rights management.

Dan Bricklin, the man behind VisiCalc (the cyberrodent's favorite spreadsheet software of all time), noted that if he had used digital rights management Microsoft might not have been able to find a copy of VisiCalc that it could make backward-compatible from Longhorn. The only surviving copies are bootlegs that have been copied from one medium to another, he noted after learning that Microsoft had demonstrated the backward compatibility.

The Rat's personal wish list for Microsoft is topped by security. It's a straightforward proposition: 'Put your code where your mouth is.'

If Microsoft wants everyone to believe that it's doing its best to create secure products, it should be willing to allow a public review of the fully documented Longhorn code and not during a visit to a secure location in Redmond.

The Rat has vowed that he won't install another Windows OS on his PC until he's had the opportunity to go over the code paw by paw and make sure there are no more nasty surprises in store.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at rat@postnewsweektech.com.

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