Ballmer's bombshell, Gerstner's retreat

Microsoft's No. 2 costs his boss a bundle while IBM frets about big bad unions.

The National Retail Federation convenes in Philadelphia for a conclave bringing together a veritable Who's Who of brick-and-mortar retail outfits. But this marks the first time the venerable industry association has entirely devoted a conference to e-commerce. I suppose it's better late than never. But after getting their collective brains beat out by the Amazons of the world, the motto of the get-together should be, We're sick and tired and not going to take it any longer.

Perhaps the last of a breed of free-spirit hi-tech CEOs, Mark Eppley is still alive and kicking after 16 years. The wonderfully eccentric Traveling Software CEO is back full-time after temporarily passing the top baton to a former Compaq suit. Watch for an announcement about the company's reinvention as a "dotcom" arriviste, along with the rollout of a new, more cyber-centric version of its flagship LapLink.

Barring a Wall Street meltdown cyber stocks may get a lift from the buzz stirred up at various Internet conferences sponsored by Goldman Sachs, Volpe, Brown and Jupiter Communications. (Of course, that's assuming Steve Ballmer doesn't open his big trap again.) Meanwhile, all ears will prick up when Mary Meeker of Morgan Stanley gives the keynote at Ariba's advisory council on Tuesday.

Y2K alert: Mark your calendars for this Friday when the federal government's new fiscal year kicks in. My guess is that it'll be a big ho-hummer.

Sony and Microsoft are set to slug it out. With the PlayStation 2 aiming to be the hub of living room entertainment, Sony is encroaching on territory that the Redmondians covet.

The Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility conference opens up at Stanford with lots of Internet "visionary" types taking the mike -- including a surprising number from the open source world -- to address lofty topics such as the digital divide and "the pursuit of wealth and equity in cyberspace." Commies.

The week that was

When Ballmer announced Microsoft would pay any price, bear any burden etc. as the company reintroduced MSN, you had to wonder whether this was a serious demarche' or a glorified snow job. After all, this is the fourth time in four years Microsoft has gone to the drawing board to revamp its online service. Saying AOL is vulnerable is one thing; taking advantage of that potential weakness is something completely different. But there's a larger picture: Microsoft wants to retouch each of its product groups to reaffirm the Internet angle: In this vein, look for similar announcements from the Office and OS groups as well.
MS goes hardware: MSN Web Companion

The 820 chip set was supposed to resolve lingering computer system performance bottlenecks. But with Intel's surprise decision to again delay the introduction -- just four days before the rollout -- don't hold your breath waiting for help anytime soon. More interestingly is the lack of confidence expressed by Dell and other high-profile OEMs in the technology.
Intel delays launch of 820 chip set again

Insiders say IBM is freaked out about the prospect of unionization but the suits have nobody to blame but themselves for their current predicament. Big Blue did the right thing, backtracking on a bizarre plan to dump the company's guaranteed pension plan. Then again, how did they ever get into this position in the first place? What with Gerstner waltzing off with tens of millions of dollars in goodies this year, this was a singular piece of genius.
IBM's union blues

It's a good time to be an Internet customer. In the aftermath of the MindSpring-EarthLink merger, count on rebates and price cuts galore as the big players jockey with each other for market share.
Consumers win in big ISP merger

Ford dealers are anxious and upset about the company's build-to-order plans using the Internet. They have reason to be worried: Direct auto sales via the Web are inevitable.
Ford dealers wary over Net plans

Oh, and before I forgot: Ballmer says Microsoft stocks are overpriced, causing his boss's net worth to drop by a few cool billion -- and today he still has a job. Only in America.

In the news
Microsoft, DOJ sum it up for the judge
Survey: Net keeps growing
Apple facing product shortage


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