Humorists stuck a minor gold mine yesterday when Microsoft anointed Satya Nadella, a veteran company insider, as its new CEO, proving that funny can be found in the most unlikely places.
Nadella, 46, was named Microsoft's third-ever CEO early Tuesday, before the U.S. stock markets opened for the day. Along with Nadella's new role, Microsoft also announced that co-founder Bill Gates had quit his job as chairman of the board and would serve as Nadella's advisor on technology and product selection issues.
Both moves -- the former long expected, but the latter somewhat a surprise -- brought out the comics.
In a faux story Tuesday, The Onion quoted a fictitious Microsoft employee who bemoaned the "brand-new thin, mobile CEO," a reference to Nadella's svelte silhouette, and wished for the old days, when technology CEOs "were so large they took up entire rooms."
While that may have been a dig of sorts at ex-CEO Steve Ballmer's bulkier shape, it also reminded readers of the time when computers themselves were warehouse-sized and required climate-controlled space to run without melting down.
The ultimate slam, however, was reserved for The Onion's last line: "Despite their difference in size and ability, tech CEOs of today were still essentially the same calculating, unfeeling machines underneath their exteriors."
Meanwhile, Andy Borowitz, a humorist whose work appears on the New Yorker magazine's website, took aim at Gates' new job.
"Bill Gates' first day at work in the newly created role of technology adviser got off to a rocky start yesterday as the Microsoft founder struggled for hours to install the Windows 8.1 upgrade," Borowitz wrote.
Borowitz continued in that vein, "reporting" that Gates and Nadella spent "tense" hours behind closed doors, eventually failing to get Windows 8.1 to install on Gates' PC.
Like The Onion, Borowitz saved his most scathing bit for the end.
"A Microsoft spokesman said only that Mr. Gates' first day in his new job had been 'a learning experience' and that, for the immediate future, he would go back to running Windows 7," Borowitz's piece ended.
That was a reference to complaints from vocal critics of the two-headed Windows 8.1, which offers the traditional Windows desktop user interface (UI) and one dubbed "Metro," that features colorful tiles and mobile-style apps.
Hewlett-Packard leveraged that frustration -- without the humor -- when it began marketing Windows 7-powered PCs to consumers from its sales website.
So far, no China-based publication has taken The Onion or Borowitz at face value, as one did almost a year ago when the latter claimed that a North Korean missile test had been delayed because the program relied on Windows 8.
Borowitz, for one, has been an equal-opportunity jokester. In September 2012, he said that Apple had urged users of the company's then-new Maps app to "not try to go anywhere" and "stay at home" or risk getting lost.
Gregg Keizer covers Microsoft, security issues, Apple, Web browsers and general technology breaking news for Computerworld. Follow Gregg on Twitter at @gkeizer, on Google+ or subscribe to Gregg's RSS feed. His email address is [email protected].
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