Policy made plain.
March 23 1997 3:30 AM

A Tough Decision


You might notice in the next few days, we hope, that Slate's pages are being served up to you a bit faster. (Well, this Thursday we were still serving up Wednesday's edition for a good part of the morning, but that's a different story.) The reason for the increased speed is new Web server software. This is the software we use to deliver pages to you.

We knew it was time to upgrade, but we faced a dilemma: Which new server software should we choose? The software business is viciously competitive, of course, and we didn't make our choice lightly. Deputy Editor Jack Shafer headed an investigative team of editors, writers, developers, and a demographically correct cross section of Slate readers (83 percent male, 77 percent college graduates, 3.9 percent cross-dressers, 17 percent purchasers of a toaster or other electrical appliance in the past three months).

Our ServerSearchTM team traveled the globe in pursuit of the very best software for serving you, our readers. In an Eskimo village near the Arctic Circle in Alaska, they sampled server software made with whale blubber, as the natives have been doing it for thousands of years. In China, the team met a 6-year-old boy who has developed server software based on Confucian principles and the sayings of the late chairman Deng Xiaoping ("Better a pig with HTML than a donkey who knows DOS"). In Silicon Valley, they were wined, dined, and offered bribes by slick twentysomething CEOs of companies with names like Fraudicom, EgoSoft, and Greed Systems PLC.

Back here in Redmond, the team rigorously tested each piece of software on genetically engineered laboratory mice. Could the mice design a Web page with working hyperlinks? Did they develop cancer or brain tumors? Did they turn into Internet bores? The software was then exposed to extreme conditions: zero gravity, below-freezing temperatures, peanut butter in the disk drive, elderly grandparents with their first computers, etc.


Finally, the team reassembled for a retreat at a luxury resort in Maui. Human-resource facilitators were brought in to conduct trust games. An acupuncturist was hired to alleviate the stress of this momentous decision. Several team members dropped out and had to be replaced by alternates. At a marathon all-night session, it took 73 ballots before a consensus emerged. Bleary-eyed but triumphant, the team emerged into the moist Hawaiian dawn to announce the winner to the awaiting world.

"We have chosen," Shafer declared, "Microsoft Internet Information Server 3.0. There were many fine competitors. But in the end we decided that Microsoft's product had the edge in ease of use, elegance, and--above all--job security."

"Whew!" said Bill Gates. "That was a close one."

Slate's Schedule


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Is all that clear?

--Michael Kinsley