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May 30, 2006

The Microsoft Code: Chapter 1

Renowned test manager JacquesS staggered through the narrow aisle of the stress lab. He lunged for the nearest computer he could see, a Dell. Grabbing the keyboard, the thirty-six-year-old man quickly typed a command to restart the machine, and selected an old Windows XP SP1 build to boot.

As he had anticipated, once the old, unpatched release booted up, a warning flashed on the screen indicating that he was prohibited from connecting to the Microsoft corporate network. He knew that in a building near the eastern shore of Lake Sammamish, an alarm was going off, and someone would soon be dispatched to investigate the potential security breach.

The test manager lay a moment, gasping for breath, taking stock. My network logon still works. A voice spoke, chillingly close. "Do not touch the computer again."

JacquesS froze, turning his head. The man was silhouetted in the door to the lab, with his body keeping the door from closing. "You should not have run that command." His accent was not easy to place. "Now tell me where it is."

"I told you already," the test manager stammered, kneeling defenseless on the floor of the lab. "I have no idea what you are talking about!"

"You are lying." The man stared at him, perfectly immobile except for a glint in his sleep-deprived eyes, and a nervous tic that made him tap his thumb and forefinger together repeatedly. His hair was slightly greasy. "You and your brethren possess a secret that is not yours."

JacquesS felt a surge of adrenaline. How could he possibly know this?

"Tonight the secret will be revealed and order restored. Tell me where it is hidden, and you will maintain your corporate network access."

JacquesS held up his hands in defense. "Wait," he said slowly, "I will tell you what you need to know." The test manager spoke his next words carefully. The lie he told was one he had rehearsed many times…each time praying he would not need to use it.

When the test manager had finished speaking, the man smiled smugly. "Yes. That is exactly what the others told me."

JacquesS recoiled. The others?

"I found them too," the man taunted. "All three of them. They confirmed what you have just said."

It cannot be! The test manager’s true identity, along with the identities of the three dotted-line reports on his virtual team, was almost as sacred as the secret they represented. JacquesS now realized that they had all told the same lie before their accounts were suspended. It was part of the protocol.

The attacker laughed. "When you are off trying to convince Volt to hire you, I will be the only one here who knows the truth."

The truth. In an instant, the test manager grasped the true horror of the situation.

The man smirked. "My work here is done. Thanks to your little reboot stunt, your account has already been terminated. Within 15 minutes your cardkey will cease to work. You’ll be paying full price for Office for the rest of your life!" Then he was gone.

Suddently, now, despite all the precautions…despite all the fail-safes…JacquesS was the only remaining link, the sole guardian of one of the most powerful secrets ever kept at Microsoft.

Shivering, he pulled himself to his feet.

I must find some way…

He summoned all of his faculties. The desperate task ahead of him, he knew, would require every remaining second of his Microsoft career.

* * *

RobertLa awoke slowly.

Where the hell am I?

He realized he had fallen asleep at his desk, head slumped over his keyboard. Touching his hands to his forehead, he could feel the imprint that the keys had left on his skin. That must be the impression of the backspace key just below his hairline, and there was the Shift key near his eyebrow…or was that the Enter key?

As he was trying to decide, he realized what had woken him up: There was a ringing sound in his office. He struggled to find the source. Was it is cell phone? Or his Windows Mobile device? Or was it a real telephone? Suddenly he remembered that he had set up Outlook to play a phone ringing sound when email arrived, a decision that had seemed amusing at the time.

Squinting at the screen, he saw the last remnants of the translucent envelope as it disappeared behind the taskbar. He tried in vain to catch it with a mouse click, but was forced to Alt-Tab over to Outlook instead. There was the email. He read it, but it made little sense. He was being summoned to a lab somewhere on campus.

* * *

When he arrived at the lab, there were two people there.

One was a man roughly his height, age, weight, and eye color, who introduced himself as VirgilI from the security group. The other was lying on the floor, clutching something in his hands, mumbling incoherently about his Lifetime Average Review.

"What’s going on here?" asked RobertLa.

VirgilI flipped open a tablet PC and read from the screen. "According to our logs, his name is JacquesS. He’s a test manager in the team that owns this lab. About half an hour ago he rebooted this server," He tapped the offending machine gingerly with his toe, "to an unpatched build of XP SP1." VirgilI shook his head slowly. "I don’t get it. We send out mail all the time telling people to turn on Automatic Updates."

RobertLa stared down at the man on the floor, who was starting to drool. "Anything else on him?"

VirgilI shrugged. "Seems pretty normal. Been here 6 years. Uses MSN Search about one-third of the time, Google the rest. Fills out the MS Poll and manager feedback. Looks like a find upstanding test manager. Nothing wrong until today. Of course we had to cut off his account and cardkey access after the stunt he pulled."

"Was he having performance issues? Maybe he was trending to an 'Underperformed' score on his annual review?"

"I doubt it." VirgilI pointed down. "See that thing in his hand?"

RobertLa looked closely. It was some sort of statue, with a golden shape on the top. "I have no idea what that is."

VirgilI looked surprised. "That, my friend, is a Gold Star award. You’ve never seen one? Maybe you should switch groups. But anyway, if this guy just pulled in a Gold Star, no way he was worried about a bad review."

RobertLa raised his eyebrows. "Maybe he just flipped out. Maybe his dev and PM were trying to add features without consulting him."

"Well, if he flipped out, he still had time to do this." VirgilI handed RobertLa a Post-It note pad. On the top sheet was written one of the most amazing things RobertLa had ever seen in his life.

* * *

Across campus, the man with the greasy hair and nervous tic hurried towards his goal. All four had concurred, before they lost their network access. He played back the events in his mind, how all four had desperately tried to buy back their blue badges by telling their secret. Each had told him the exact same thing—-that the secret was ingeniously hidden at a precise location on the shore of Lake Bill, near some of Microsoft’s ancient buildings.

He was getting nearer. Douglas firs surrounded him, the last remnants of the original forest that used to occupy the site of Microsoft’s campus. He ran towards the front entrance to Building 2, then veered left to pass under the elevated walkway to Building 1.

To be continued...

Posted by AdamBa at May 30, 2006 10:21 PM

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