R. Fink

The phone rang at the Rat burrow early Saturday morning'earlier than was civilized. The whiskered one grumbled to himself and muttered into the receiver, 'Mrhlo.'

'Good morning, Mr. Rat, sir. The judge has implored me to seek your assistance again. He's looking for some help from a technologically Solomonic individual such as yourself as he works out the remedy in the Microsoft Corp. case.'

Ah, it was the Rat's anonymous federal-court contact again. 'Are those Judge Jackson's exact words, or yours?' the furry one asked.

'Well, the spirit was his, though the letter was mine,' the law clerk replied. 'We really do need help getting ready for the remedy hearings. The judge wants to have a sentence, er, solution at hand if things move more quickly than expected.'

'If it's a rush to judgment he wants,' the Rat snickered as he slid his paws into slippers and stumbled to the kitchen for caffeine, 'that's certainly my department. I'll put together a friend of the court brief by, say, lunch?'

'I'll be waiting for you in the usual place,' the judge's henchman replied.

After administering his morning fix of espresso, the Rat popped open his notebook and began hammering out a compromise only he could devise.

'The key to any good compromise is making sure no one is happy with it,' he reminded himself as he juggled the legal mumbo jumbo. 'I can fall back on years of experience in equal-opportunity unhappiness.'

The cyberrodent cranked out six creative options for bringing Microsoft back into the fold of law-abiding software companies'or at least impairing its ability to crush and destroy'while keeping the government out of the software design business.

•'Slice, dice and splice: Split Microsoft into separate companies, one for each product line. To ensure the continued competitiveness of the individual Nanosoft entities, clone a Bill Gates to run each one.

To limit their collusion, the ruling would restrict them to communicating via Pocket Outlook clients running Microsoft Windows CE. The clones would be allowed to use the handhelds, with Chiclet keyboards and 14.4-Kbps modems, between the hours of 12:45 p.m. and 1:15 p.m. every other Tuesday.

•'LAN without a country: Banish all Microsofties to live at sea aboard merchant marine vessels. Anyone who came in contact with them would be forbidden to speak of the United States or the Nasdaq average. Microsoft could ship products only by longboat.

In the spirit of fairness, the Justice Department's Joel Klein would be required to spend the rest of his days as a technical consultant on David E. Kelley's law shows. A recurring role would be written for him on Fox's 'Ally McBeal.'

•'Who wants to be a billionaire? Force Microsoft chief executive officer Steve Ballmer into an advisory role and name Regis Philbin president of Microsoft and executor of the court's remedy.

Philbin would award the company's current assets to contestants who correctly answer a list of increasingly difficult trivia questions, such as, 'What is your mother's maiden name?' and 'What color is my tie?'

•'Government reinvention: Nationalize Microsoft and rename it the Department of Information Technology Systems (DITS). Windows 2000 would become the official operating system of the federal government, but only after it was rewritten to run on the median computer system: a Wang 486 with a 40M hard drive and 32M of RAM.

Microsoft stockholders would get compensation in the form of the Interior Department, which they would run as a spin-off company. Their mandate: Improve America's user interface.

•'Reach out and touch someone: Following the Ma Bell model, break up Microsoft into regional Bill operating companies: Southwest Bill, Pacific Bill, Southern Bill, Bill Atlantic, AmeriBill and BillNex. Each would get the source code of all Microsoft products plus a piece of the company's assets.

The leaner and meaner leftover Microsoft would be limited to providing application software and long-distance service, but it could compete in local OS markets if it used Linux. As a bonus, the new Baby Bills would provide much-needed jobs for outgoing Clinton administration officials.

•'Best and final: Put the cyberrodent in charge of a hostile, government-backed takeover of Microsoft by rMachines Inc.

'It would do wonders for my market valuation,' the budding billionaire mused.

The Packet Rat once managed networks but now spends his time ferreting out bad packets in cyberspace. E-mail him at [email protected].


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