MICROSOFT . . . MARVEL, MISCHIEF OR MISTAKE?

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The combination of a Bill Gates speech and the long -awaited announcement about MicrosoftÕs new online service dominated conversation at todayÕs opening of the huge Comdex show. As Gates spoke of a world of computing touching all facets of daily life -- ranging from schools to police activities to health care -- the company also unveiled The Microsoft Network -- previously code-named Marvel -- which will compete with the online Big Three -- Compuserve, Prodigy and America Online. The service will launch next year, linked to at least 30 million copies of MicrosoftÕs Windows95, the companyÕs new operating system. For weeks, competing spin doctors have been critical of the huge advantage that bundling produces. TIME technology writer Philip Elmer-Dewitt says the launch Òhas everyone panicked. Stocks went down and there was talk of antitrust action." But Elmer-Dewitt, who was given a preview of the system last Friday, was "underwhelmed" by the content. "I was disappointed with the Windows-only interface, with no content to talk of," he says. Microsoft had also hoped to preview the much-anticipated Windows95 at the show but delays have pushed the delivery date to mid-1995. The program made an unplanned debut though, as hackers distributed free copies of the current work over the Internet. A $10,000 reward has been offered by the company for information leading to the pirates' arrest.Post your opinion on theNew Mediabulletin board.