By Ed Bott


I've just returned from a strange and exotic land. An insular culture, almost completely cut off from the outside world, where the natives have their own dialect, practically incomprehensible to the outside world. Now, I'm no anthropologist, but if I play my cards right I could become as famous as Dian Fossey and her gorillas, or Margaret Mead and her South Pacific islanders, or any of those brave souls who are living among the teenagers of the San Fernando Valley trying to figure out that bizarre subculture.

I'm talking, of course, about the natives of Microsoftland. Anyone who's willing to move to Seattle (and kiss the sun good-bye for the next six months) might be able to discover what makes this curious race so different from the rest of us. Is it the caffeine? The hyperactive competitive culture? The uncut adrenaline in the water supply? Who knows?

Over the last decade, I've spent many multiple man-months among the Microsoftians. I don't have all the answers, but in the interest of science, I can share my preliminary research: the first draft of a Microsoft-to-English dictionary. The next time you hear someone from Redmond use and of the following words and phrases, here's what they really mean…

Bandwidth Human information processing capacity. The more bandwidth the better. A high-bandwidth conversation is the ultimate in human communications, in which two people practically finish each other's sentences. Also used as an insult: "I just talked to Furbish…there's not a lot of bandwidth there."

Buttoned Down Tight, clean, well thought out. A high compliment. The opposite of random. "No one could believe it. Bill's keynote was totally buttoned down!"

Dog Food The kind of hardware and software used by real people, in the real world. "Eating your own dog food" means actually using the software you write. "Sure, I still use a few DOS applications - they make great dog food."

No-Op Ineffective person, time waster. After a software instruction that uses clock cycles without actually accomplishing anything productive. A serious insult. Contrast with smart guy. "Of course the new build is filled with bugs - what do you expect when you put a complete no-op in charge of things?!"

Nonlinear Inappropriately intense negative response. "I told him we didn't have any Starbucks Gazebo Blend and he went totally nonlinear." In the caste-conscious Microsoft culture, this phrase is usually uttered by a grunt-level worker referring to a higher-level manager.

Party Kick out the managers and add new features to a program, especially after the deadline for adding new features ahs passed. Also used to refer to what software does to memory and hard disks. "This new code parties on the hard disk for a while and then locks up the system."

Pimped Screwed, hosed, stopped cold. As in "Tough luck, dude. Your project just got pimped." Etymology unknown, although it probably goes back to Bill G's high school days.

Random Not well thought through. Humorous when used in a self-deprecating sense, a deadly insult when used of others. "Steve had this totally random idea and it took us two hours to convince him he shouldn't do it."

Shoot in the Head Remove a feature from a program. "Sure, we can ship on time, as long as we can shoot the TCP/IP connectivity module in the head." In the aggressive but nonviolent Microsoft culture, it's never used to refer to a person.

Shrimp and Weenies Shorthand reference to a bit of Microsoft folklore inspired by an executive who evangelized about the need to pinch pennies, even in a billion-dollar company. "All right, you can have the press reception. But make it less shrimp and more weenies."

Smart Guy In an IQ-obsessed world, the ultimate compliment. "He doesn't shower often, but he's a real smart guy…OK, let's hire him."

Take Offline Postpone till later. Usually used to shut down a random argument between two members of a larger group. "Can you guys please take this offline?"

Total Disconnect An extremely low-bandwidth human interaction. "It was a total disconnect. I spent half an hour explaining how this stuff worked, and he just didn't get it."

Two-Five In the Microsoft performance evaluation system, in which a 4 is excellent and a 3 is OK, a 2.5 is less than acceptable. If you're a two-five, you've got one foot out the door. "Well, yes, I need more people, but don't send me another two-five!"

No doubt I've messed a few choice phrases and mangled a few definitions. Sorry - I really don't have the bandwidth to deal with that kind of criticism right now.