The Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition

Digits: Gambits and Gadgets in the World of Technology

Microsoft Corp., a perennial Silicon Valley outsider, is trying to establish a beachhead in the heart of the high-tech industry. The Redmond, Wash., software giant has scouted several large locations in the region's notoriously tight real-estate market, including a 350,000-square-foot chunk of a defunct shopping mall in San Mateo, Calif.

Although Microsoft has told developers the land is for its WebTV unit, a grander plan may be afoot. The company has discussed building a campus that would unite its local operations, including WebTV of Palo Alto, its Sunnyvale-based Hotmail subsidiary, Macintosh developers in Cupertino and a San Francisco research outfit, according to a Microsoft executive in California.

Such a prominent Microsoft move into the Valley -- where the company's enemies are a dime a dozen -- is roughly akin to Saddam Hussein building an air field in Maryland. Yet a prominent Silicon Valley base could give Microsoft better access to programming talent, more credit for its role in the Bay Area's booming economy as well as improved collaboration among its far-flung groups.

But getting the Microsoft diaspora together isn't easy. "It's hard," a Microsoft executive says, "to agree on one location." A Microsoft spokeswoman had no comment.

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Why isn't International Business Machines Corp. among the top sponsors of JavaOne, an annual San Francisco love-in for Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java technology? Blame podium politics. IBM, which claims to have more programmers using Java than Sun itself, pushed hard to get a keynote speech. But Sun turned Big Blue down flat. Though Java partners pony up big money to become co-sponsors, a Sun spokeswoman says the JavaOne tradition is for keynotes to be done only by Sun executives and a few outside experts.

So IBM, which competes furiously with Sun in computer hardware, opted to become a JavaOne "gold" co-sponsor, for quite a bit less money than the top-tier "platinum" partners pay. And IBM found a use for the savings: It's holding its own Java "strategy" day -- on March 23, the day before JavaOne opens.

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Buzzword of the Week: It's been proclaimed "the emerging technology of the year" and "a quantum leap" for electronic publishers. It's XML, or "extensible markup language," a development so powerful, so vast ... that almost no one can define it exactly. Briefly, it's a standardized way of agreeing on tags or categories for words, concepts or other data on the Web so tasks can be automated. For example, there would be a standard tag for a stock quote, so a computer program could fetch quotes from a variety of Web sites.

The same for pictures or video clips or even concepts such as the idea of a sermon. For example, Pittsburgh-based Houses of Worship, a Web site linking 10,000 churches, has settled on what is meant by "scripture" and "prayer." Says Alan Freed, the group's Web master: "Pastors love the 'scripture' tag because it lets them see how other pastors are using scripture." Closer to earth, XML could automate the interchange of orders and payments.

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Some feminists have been attacking the first CD-ROM titles by Brenda Laurel, a well-known researcher into how girls relate to computer games. Ms. Laurel interviewed thousands of girls to come up with the character of Rockett for her company, Purple Moon of Mountain View, Calif. In the games, Rockett struggles with attending a new school and choosing new friends.


But a recent Ms. magazine article by free-lance writer Rebecca Eisenberg posits that perhaps Rockett should be more aggressive. "Laurel discounts the possibility that boys learn techniques for success in the business world--including competitiveness and drive for achievement -- from 'action games,' " wrote Ms. Eisenberg. "Depriving girls of that training will not change the way the economy operates; in fact, it will more likely serve to perpetuate the sexist status quo."

Such criticism infuriates Ms. Laurel. "Of course they never consulted with girls, whom we found thought the most important element of any game was to see and hear someone like themselves to validate who they were," says Ms. Laurel. So at a technology conference recently, she unveiled a spoof video called "Rockett XXVIII: Armageddon." In it, a fully armed and very angry-looking Rockett appears on screen, ready to whip a few Mutant Ninja Turtles.

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It's a mystery. Jack Harding, chief executive officer of Cadence Design Systems Inc., was on the agenda to speak at Intel Corp.'s coming-out party last week for its new workstation technology. But on the big day, one of Mr. Harding's archrivals spoke in his place. Industry executives say Cadence angered Intel in February by hiring ace chip designer Richard Witek and a dozen other engineers from Digital Equipment Corp.'s StrongARM microprocessor project in Austin, Texas. Intel has a pending agreement to buy Digital's StrongARM business, and is counting on the chip to get into consumer electronics.

Cadence declines to say why Mr. Harding's invitation was withdrawn. Intel officials blamed it on overbooking speakers. Craig Barrett, Intel's chief operating officer, talked to Mr. Witek and others about why they left, and says he got the impression they considered Intel the "evil empire."

Compiled by G. Christian Hill and Bart Ziegler from staff reports.

Copyright © 1998 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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