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Originally published Monday, February 5, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Launch bumps: error message, Stewart faux pas

Is there any better way to level the technology industry down to the rest of us than the dreaded error message? It happened at least twice...

Is there any better way to level the technology industry down to the rest of us than the dreaded error message?

It happened at least twice last week to Microsoft and its Windows Vista launch in New York.

First, on the morning of the launch, something went awry with an electronic billboard for Toys R Us in Times Square. A giant Windows error message on the sign said so.

Oh-oh. Only a few hours later would hundreds of invited guests be making their way past the board to hear Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer at the launch party, but by then a successful reboot had taken place.

The second incident involved Gates' appearance Monday on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart. When Stewart's interview ended, the Microsoft chairman shook Stewart's hand, waved to the crowd and walked off stage — instead of hanging around to chat as the broadcast went to commercial.

That prompted a seemingly surprised Stewart to mutter: " ... uh, he's leaving! He can't just leave!"

The next night Stewart explained what "really" happened. He replayed the video and, this time, as Gates left, an error message flashed across the screen: "Bill Gates has encountered a problem and needs to leave. We are sorry for the inconvenience. ... "

Selling online

A recent national survey found that advertisers plan to increase spending on online advertising by 18 percent this year.

Source: Outsell

Working at Microsoft

Later in the week CEO Ballmer talked about how he hates losing employees.

"Whenever anybody leaves Microsoft, it's like a dagger in me," the CEO told an audience of teenagers at the company's Minority Student Day. He implores departing employees, " 'Oh, no, don't leave.' That doesn't mean these people don't, but, you know, at 75,000, I know fewer of them I guess you could say."

Microsoft only updates its employment figures once or maybe twice a year. But sometimes executives will start saying numbers — as Ballmer did here — that hint at where the figure might be.

On June 30 last year, the company reported 71,172 employees globally. If they're in the neighborhood of 75,000 about six months later, than we could guess at a growth rate of about 5 percent. That compares with the company's 16.7 percent growth rate in the 2006 fiscal year.

Browsing in China

Microsoft's Internet Explorer just got a bit more competition in China. Last week, maker of the open-source Firefox browser, said it would open an office in Beijing aimed at expanding the use of Firefox in the Middle Kingdom.

It's good timing for California-based Mozilla. China is now the world's second-largest Internet market, with about 140 million users. At the rate it's growing, JP Morgan predicts China could overtake the U.S. market in a few years.

Mozilla wants to educate Chinese developers to use and adapt the browser to their own tastes: a kind of "Mozilla with Chinese characteristics," as its chief operating officer, John Lilly, told CNET.

Considering the way China has handcuffed the Internet until now, that could mean a fox with a lot less fire.

Download, a column of news bits, observations and miscellany, is gathered by The Seattle Times technology staff. We can be reached at 206-464-2265 or

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