Posted at 10:15 a.m. PST Tuesday, February
                 22, 2000

                 Say, Bill, can you
                 hear us all right

                 BY MOIRA GUNN
                 Special to

                    Audio version of the column

                 OK, I admit it. I have these imaginary conversations
                 with Bill Gates. And I felt one coming on when I was
                 reading the coverage about the new Windows 2000
                 operating system in the San Jose Mercury News. It was
                 actually two different reports filed by Cecilia Kang and
                 Michelle Quinn, and I just couldn't help myself. I had to
                 talk to him right away.

                 `Golly, Bill, you shouldn't have. This present is just way
                 too expensive, and I'm not sure I can accept it.

                 `Oh, it's not for me? But how can that be? You gave me
                 Windows 95 and then Windows 98. What do you mean
                 Windows 2000 is not for me?

                 `I see. You're building the Windows Millennium Edition
                 for me. Sometime this summer. You say, Windows 2000
                 is for business users with big desktop computers or
                 networks of computers. Oh, I didn't know that.

                 `But seriously, Bill, you know these bait-and-switch titles
                 are pretty upsetting. I've been talking to people, and it
                 coming as a real surprise that Windows 2000 isn't for
                 them either.

                 `I see. It was just a business decision. And frankly, you
                 kind of set up expectations. 5,000 people. 4 years. $2
                 Billion. 35 Million lines ofcode.

                 `Well, the truth is all we really need is some basic word
                 processing here. And basic email. And every so often
                 we want to go out and cruise the World Wide Web.
                 Frankly, that's about it.

                 `And you know all those footnotes, and shadows, and the
                 paper clip guy with the advice? Don't need 'em. In fact,
                 what we'd really like is for the computer to turn on and off
                 real fast, and never crash. That's really what we want.
                 Can you work on that?

                 `You're right, Bill. The kids really like to play those
                 computer games, but this wouldn't be for them. This
                 would be for adults. Who have work to do, and no time to
                 do it in. Yeah, all right, a basic spreadsheet, if you say
                 so, but no fancy stuff, OK? We just want something
                 basic and fast that always works.

                 `When do I want it? I'm glad you asked that. Actually, I
                 could use it right away. I mean if you really want to give
                 me a present, and certainly, a guy like you with the kind
                 of resources you have at your disposal ...

                 `Oh, I see. I understand, Bill. I know you guys are
                 working really hard up there. And I know you've been
                 distracted. I'm sure it will all work out great. 'Til next time,

                 I don't know what it is, but I always let Bill off the hook.

                 Something in me wants to scream, `Are you listening?`
                 but I never do. I think that if I make my case quietly and
                 simply, he'll hear me. Like when I travel in a foreign
                 country, and I think that if I ask for what I want slowly
                 enough, the person I'm talking to will magically pick up

                 Maybe I could start having imaginary conversations with
                 Steve Ballmer. He's the new CEO. But I don't hold out
                 much hope. The paper quotes him as saying, `Microsoft
                 in my opinion is not well-understood.`

                 That's not a good sign.

                 I think if anyone's not well-understood, it's us.