Web sites of the month

Microsoft Web site to address Y2K problemsAfter years of customer frustration with Microsoft's inattention to the year 2000 problem and the impact the millennium crisis may have on its 9000-plus products, the software company finally announced plans to put a year 2000 resource centre on the World Wide Web by mid-March.

Microsoft's Year 2000 Resource Center will list information about which of the company's products are compliant, how the products handle dates and how to work around problems. It will also offer tools to help fix individual products.

The announcement marked Microsoft's first admission that it has "been slow in responding to this issue", said Jason Matusow, Microsoft's year 2000 strategy manager.

Microsoft's inaction on the problem "has been a mistake", Matusow said. Microsoft was "head down, moving along with PC technologies'' and failed to grasp the importance of products' date sensitivity and how critical they are to customers' operations, Matusow said.

In the past, Microsoft told customers that all its products were year 2000-compliant. Those statements were not only inaccurate, they "put a lot of pressure on IT managers who were trying to put together budgets for desktop conversions", one company official admitted.

Microsoft's product guide will allow users to search for products by name, version number, the software language involved and whether the products are compliant. The Web site initially will include information about heavily used Microsoft products. Older products, such as Word 5.0 for DOS, an eight-year-old word processing system, will not get patches. In those cases, customers will have to upgrade to newer versions. If a product requires a Microsoft "service pack" to make it compliant, Microsoft will offer the pack free for customers to download from the Web site, he said.

Coca-Cola

www.cocacola.com

The best idea at Coca-Cola's Web site is immediately visible but not immediately apparent to Web surveys. The site displays one of seven screens that rotate through the day. So users have an equal chance of entering via the site's corporate information area, an online museum, a clothes and collectibles catalogue or other features.

Nickelodeon

http://www.nick.com

The attitudinal folks at Nickelodeon have transported their audacity online, with a multimedia-rich site that features Green Slime, Gak and Virtual Reality Modeling Language. But they haven't forgotten the little people. This site offers a low-bandwidth version for kids with PCs packing 14.4Kbps or slower modems or browsers older than Navigator 2.0. Sections include activities such as creating your own webzine or comic, information on games, with trivia questions and a three dimensional interactive environment.

Sun on the Net

http://www.sun.com/sun-on-net/

Sun Microsystems provides information on its Internet and intranet products, services, and strategies. Check out the Business on the Internet section to see how enterprises are using Sun products, or browse the useful Sun Guide to Web Style.

Sony Computing

http://www.sony.com/technology

Sony Electronics offers a lively site designed to promote its computers, monitors, and other peripherals. Visitors to the Interactive Feature Guide can view Shockwave animations of the inner workings of various Sony products.

Cheyenne

http://www.cheyenne.com

Computer Associates' Cheyenne division provides information on its directory management, security, and communications software. The Download Software area contains access to patches, upgrades, and evaluation software.

Feel like a chat?

Conferencing and chatting sound like similar activities, but they're quite different. Conferencing areas are like bulletin boards: people can post messages that others can read and reply to at their convenience. A chat room, on the other hand, is a virtual watercooler, a place where people can meet in real time to exchange gossip, pleasantries - you name it. Probably the most popular free chat service is EarthWeb's ChatPlanet (www.chatplanet.com), which uses a Java-based chat applet that works in version 3.0 or later of Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer. Creating your own ChatPlanet chat room takes just a few steps: Simply read the licensing agreement, and complete an on-screen form, entering information about your site and its chat room. You'll receive an e-mail containing some HTML code that you paste into the page where you want your chat room to appear. So that chatters can find you, EarthWeb lists your chat room in the ChatPlanet directory.

TalkCity (www.talkcity.com) offers a similar free chat-room service. And Tripod (www.tripod.com), the spunky, twentysomething-oriented lifestyle site, offers free personal chat rooms to its premium-class members. Premium membership costs $36 per year and includes other amenities, including 12MB of Web-server space and - yeah! - a 20 per cent discount on Tripod apparel.

As for free conferencing services, my research turned up just one, and a funky one at that. LinKo (www.linko.com/efree/ efree.htm), a South Korea-based site, offers free conferencing areas, Web-page-hit counters, and guest books. - Jim Heid

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