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His name is John Smith (not really). He works for a small company in the Pacific Northwest, and he recently received an E-mail from Dell Computer. It seems the computer maker is changing the name and some of the tactics of its small-business portal. The E-mail indicated that Dell's Business Alliance Sales Division was changing the portal name from Premier.Dell to My Account Premier. The new portal offers "customized pricing and detailed account information." All well and good for Mr. Smith. What angered him was that the E-mail not only identified him by name, but it also included his account name and password, directed him to the new portal, told him his old password would let him log on, then advised him to change his password (duh!). Smith complained to his local rep that including his password in an E-mail was "boneheaded," at least, and a security and privacy violation at worst. He was referred to another rep, who referred him to someone else, who never got back to him. Dell is trying to put Mr. Smith in touch with the appropriate person, a spokeswoman says.

The U.S. Postal Service last week said Unisys had agreed to pay $882,483 to settle charges of overbilling related to Y2K work. Unisys actually made the payment on May 21, the result of mediation discussions last month. Unisys was one of several contractors hired by the Postal Service for Y2K work, according to a statement by inspector general Karla Corcoran. The charges stemmed from whistle-blower allegations that Unisys billed the Postal Service "for contract work performed by unqualified employees or work not performed under the Y2K Postal Service contract requirements," according to the statement. The inspector general's office and the Postal Service law department cooperated to investigate the charges and work out the settlement. A Unisys spokeswoman says the company "stands by the propriety of its billing. We had an opportunity to resolve [the dispute] for a small fraction of the government's claim, and we did it so as not to jeopardize the long-standing relationship with this customer."

Have you caught any of the soap opera going on between the state of California and Oracle? California claims Oracle overcharged it for a 10-year, multiuser database license worth approximately $126 million that was signed in May 2001. Oracle claims the deal will save the state $100 million over the length of the contract. The whole affair has turned into a nasty political scandal, with charges of influence peddling and cronyism leading to the resignation of at least one California IT executive and the suspension of another. The state Legislature has been holding hearings on the matter for several weeks, apparently without the input or participation of Oracle, which made public last week a letter sent by CFO Jeff Henley to Dean Florez, chairman of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee of the California Legislature. In the letter, Henley complains that Oracle hasn't had a chance to respond to allegations and says Florez instead has "permitted the record to be filled with reams of undocumented innuendo and speculation." The controversy was caused by a California Bureau of State Audits report in April that criticized the contract with Oracle. When the report was published, Oracle offered to rescind the contract, an offer Henley reiterates in his letter last week.

Among the more interesting findings of a Securities and Exchange Commission probe into Microsoft's books, the settlement of which was disclosed last week, is the fact that the company on paper reduced the useful lives of the PCs it owns from three years to one year to accelerate depreciation. Maybe Microsoft was hoping the idea would catch on. Most computer vendors work on the assumption that three to four years represents a natural upgrade cycle. If PC buyers thought like Microsoft, sales of Windows would skyrocket.

If I thought like Microsoft, I'd think the world is my oyster, the PC is the greatest thing since sliced bread, and everyone should live in Seattle. I'd also think the marketplace is a game, that you don't win until everyone else loses, and that I'm bound to win because I'm smarter than everyone else. Uh-oh--I think more like Microsoft than I thought did! Send me your thoughts on Microsoft, or an industry tip, to, or phone 516-562-5623. If you want to talk about portals, privacy, or long-term database contracts, meet me at InformationWeek .com's Listening Post:

To discuss this column with other readers, please visit John Soat's forum on the Listening Post.

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page on the Listening Post.

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