A small CD-ROM maker in San Rafael, Calif., has one thing Microsoft Corp. hasn’t managed to buy yet: a sense of humor.
Complete with a “Billagotchi” virtual pet CEO (you can feed him money) and a game called Windows Exploder (blow away those error messages before getting tagged), little Palladium Interactive plans to unveil its parody of the software giant at the start of Macworld on Tuesday.
“Microshaft Winblows 98” is a CD-ROM of games and spoofs.
The company, which sees itself as the National Lampoon of the interactive media industry, had earlier released spoofs of computer game Myst (called Pyst), television’s “X-Files” (X-Fools) and Hollywood’s “Star Wars” (Star Warped).
Palladium officials say dumb luck was behind their Jan. 1 release of the Microsoft parody - not an “in” with the Justice Department, which is in the midst of suing Microsoft for unfairly leveraging its dominance in Windows software to gain market share in the Internet browser market. Microsoft denies the charges.
“What we call this is a parody of the company, the software and the man. Some people might say the empire, the software and the man,” said Ed Bernstein, founder, president and chief executive of Palladium, which also publishes more serious educational and genealogical software. “Not being a legal scholar, I don’t know if I can say the monopoly, the software and the man.”
Microsoft, which as a stalwart of the computer industry has been long the target of jokes, is also using the occasion of Macworld, which runs through Thursday at San Francisco’s Moscone Center, to debut some products of its own. “Ours are probably a little more serious,” said Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray, citing Office 98 and Internet Explorer 4.0 browser for the Macintosh platform.
Murray said the company hadn’t yet had a chance to examine Palladium’s spoof of the company, which costs $19.95 and arrives in a box that closely resembles Microsoft’s trademark Windows 95 packaging. “But we try to have a sense of humor about this sort of thing.”
Of course, the Justice Department action has added to the humor at Microsoft’s expense, between spoof sites on the World Wide Web and jokes circulating in the general public. Alan Dundes, a professor at the University of California-Berkeley who has written a book about humor, said that’s completely normal. “In general, when there is a crisis, one way of responding to it is through humor, whether it be O.J. jokes, Princess Diana jokes or Challenger jokes,” he said. “It’s always at someone else’s expense.”
For Bernstein, a one-time journalist who has longed to publish parody like that found in Mad Magazine, the “Microshaft” release could be the company’s piece de resistance. “It’s worth the entire $20,” he said, of the product that just shipped to such chains as Fry’s Electronics, Egghead Software and CompUSA. “We could sell the empty boxes for that alone.”
The box parodies Microsoft’s slogan, “Where do you want to go today?” with “Who does he want to own today?” The Winblows version is listed as 98 or 99 or 00 or 01. And a huge red stamp says Justice Department approved (not).
Appropriately for Macworld, one of the spoof games is called, “The Roll Ahead” (a play on Gates’ book “The Road Ahead.”) Players can act like Gates and acquire companies, such as Microsoft’s recent acquisition of the free e-mail service Hotmail. And, of course, you play against Gates’ long-time rival, Apple Computer founder Steve Jobs.
But that last joke may be on the jokesters. Those two have patched things up with Microsoft’s recent $150 million investment in Apple.
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