You have to hand it to Microsoft. It's facing years--maybe decades--of legal battles and growing questions about its relevance, and it still takes the time to make people laugh. Whether Bill Gates is laughing, too, however, is uncertain.
Gates gave the first keynote speech for this week's Networld + Interop conference, yielding the stage for a series of self- deprecating and celebrity-studded video skits. Tense and hoarse, Gates seemed like the only person in a crowded Las Vegas Hilton hall not enjoying himself.
The premise for Microsoft's latest self-satirizing comedy bits was a fictional edition of "The McLaughlin Group" starring the curmudgeon himself, John McLaughlin, and other inside-the-Beltway media types reviewing Microsoft's fortunes. Some notable moments:
-A segment modeled after MTV's "Real World" program in which a group of strangers are selected to live with each other in front of the camera. In Microsoft's version, the strangers include Tom Brokaw, Diane Sawyer, and Michael Dell, who grumbles, "If [Sawyer] signs and dances one more time, I'm out of here."
-A takeoff on the Austin Powers movies, in which Gates plays the title character and Steve Ballmer plays his nemesis, Dr. Evil. The scene where Gates gets down with go-go dancers was a crowd-pleaser.
-Comic actor Leslie Nielsen appears in another bit as Bob Dole in a takeoff of Dole's new role as spokesmodel for Viagra. Here, Nielsen as Dole talks about the heartbreak of "hardware dysfunction."