IS THAT A PC in your pocket, or are you just happy to CE? Microsoft's latest attempt at getting the Windows CE dodo to fly was detailed this week at CeBit, where the company introduced its Pocket Internet Explorer for the PocketPC. Or is the handheld PC? No, wait the Palm PC. Whatever. With 3Com's Palm division finally releasing a color unit and Microsoft virtually abandoning the market for mini-notebook CE devices, there's almost no reason for Windows CE to exist anymore. Am I the only one giving up on this thing?

INDUSTRY PUNDIT JOHN Dvorak has provided a sneak-peak this week at "Mars," the Internet Explorer-related technology that seems to be so hush-hush, trumping all of the beta Web sites, just as he did last year with Neptune. It seems that Mars, which actually goes by the name "MSN Mars," is an update to MSN, Microsoft's online service. You may recall that MSN dropped its user interface a few years back to concentrate on Web-based services. But the Mars project, which consists of a beautiful multi-color front-end to MSN, marks the return of the MSN client. "Mars is Microsoft's desperate last attempt to make MSN.com the competitor to AOL that Microsoft always hoped for," says Dvorak. I agree. And though it's basically just a Web browser user interface and dial-up networking update as previously reported in WinInfo, MSN Mars features the kind of personalization that is only hinted at by Microsoft's current MSN home page. I'll have more information as it comes in, but check Dvorak's excellent column about Mars in the meantime. It's much better than any of the me-too follow-ups that appeared later in the week.

MICROSOFT HAS QUIETLY issued its BackOffice Server 4.5 Readiness Kit for Windows 2000 Server, a customer orderable CD kit and Web resource that contains the necessary information and software required to deploy Windows 2000 into existing BackOffice Server infrastructures. The CD kit is available now and is free to existing BackOffice customers. For more information, please visit the BackOffice Web site.

MICROSOFT'S ATTEMPTS AT merging the Windows user interface with HTML have been pretty tame so far, but Millennium, Mars, and even the recently-cancelled Neptune project illustrate some interesting attempts at making a go of it. I've taken a look at the only externally released build of Neptune, which was issued as an add-on to Windows 2000 Professional. If you're interested in a screenshot, check out my Whistler FAQ on the SuperSite (Whistler, you may recall, is the project that took over for Neptune).

YOU MIGHT RECALL my successful campaign to have NT 4.0 returned to the default set of CDs that are given to MSDN Professional and Universal subscribers. Well, in the spirit of turning lemons into lemonade, MSDN is now touting the return of NT 4.0 in its latest newsletter: "WINDOWS NT 4.0 IS BACK - Thanks to your feedback, we will put Windows NT 4.0 back in future packs. You can get NT 4.0 today by calling 1-800-759-5474 or downloading from the Subscriber Downloads site at \[the MSDN Web site\]." Isn't that special?

IN A MOVE stolen straight from the Apple playbook, Microsoft is finally starting to market logo merchandise. Check out the Windows Style Web site for some geekware: You know you want it.

IN A HUMOROUS slip-up, Microsoft Corporation is apologizing this week for describing Bangkok, Thailand as a "commercial sex hub" in its Encarta 2000 Deluxe CD-based encyclopedia. "As soon as we were made aware of this issue, my team worked to remedy the situation by researching and rewriting the article on Bangkok \[into\] one that reflects its rich culture and history," said Microsoft Home and Retail division vice president Robert Bach. Too bad this isn't the first time this happened: The 1995 and 1996 editions of Encarta also contained the mention.

SPEAKING OF WHICH, is it me, or is every other employee at Microsoft a vice president these days? I used to make fun of the program manager title by referring to Microsoft employees as "yet another program manager \[insert name here\]." But lately, it seems that they've been upgraded en masse. Even vice presidents get promotions to senior vice presidents and the like. Maybe there are even vice-vice presidents for all I know. Weird.

THANKS TO PASCAL Belaud for the tip: Microsoft Corporation has released the second version of its BizTalk JumpStart Kit, a set of documents, tools, and source code that together provide a Windows DNA-based framework for building an integration backbone between business applications. The Jumpstart Kit provides samples to show how you can begin to link your applications to others – even those of partner businesses using the guidelines and specifications defined as part of the BizTalk Framework. Sound exciting? Head on over to the Microsoft Web site and check it out.

THE SECOND PUBLIC beta of the excellent WinZIP 8.0 is now available. Check out the WinZIP Web site for details and a free download