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"They're still french fries. And they're still high in fat." -- Kathleen Zelman of the American Dietetic Assn. on McDonald's plans to cook its fries in a new oil to lower fat content Here's a shift: Oracle (ORCL) CEO Larry Ellison now says his longtime foil, Microsoft (MSFT) Chairman Bill Gates, is his "role model." For years, Ellison mocked his rival, and he still does so in public appearances. But in more thoughtful moments, Ellison is giving Gates his due. In fact, Ellison told BusinessWeek that he's patterning Oracle's future on Microsoft's past. "We want to do for enterprise software what Microsoft did for the desktop," he says.

Ellison believes Oracle can dominate the high-priced corporate-software market the way Microsoft dominates PC software. How? By doing just what Microsoft did to take control of the desktop: provide bundled software cheaper than competitors. Ellison plans on combining that tactic with an outsourcing business, in which Oracle would run customers' software at a fraction of what it would cost to do it themselves. There's one big catch: Customers have to use Oracle products. He won't run competitors' software.

But Ellison has a long way to go before he Microsoft-izes the corporate-software world. Microsoft owns some 90% of the desktop-applications market. Oracle? It has a mere 16% of corporate applications, a distant second to German powerhouse SAP (SAP). No question, the corporate scandals of the past year have angered investors and kicked off a backlash against CEOs. But does Corporate America now face a ticked-off rank and file, too? That's the implication of a new poll commissioned by the AFL-CIO.

It found that for the first time in nearly 20 years, more nonunion workers (50%) say they would vote to form a union than those who would not (43%). Another poll, done by lawyers group the Employment Law Alliance, found that 58% of workers support more union organizing to protect employees. "People are angry that they're losing their savings to a corrupt corporate system they thought they could trust," charges AFL-CIO President John Sweeney.

Indeed, mistrust of companies is spiking, with nearly 40% of Americans saying they have a negative view of corporations, says Guy Molyneux, who conducted the AFL-CIO study. That's up from 25% just last year and is at the highest level since pollsters first asked the question nine years ago.

The change in sentiment offers a renewed opportunity for unions, which have seen ranks shrink for decades. The AFL-CIO will redouble recruitment efforts, union officials say. Still, given labor's poor track record in the face of strenuous anti-union efforts by management, employers may not have all that much to fear. Computer makers have long complained that while the price of everything from Pentium processors to mice has plummeted, the cost of Windows actually has risen. The result: Operating software is an ever larger piece of the total bill, and Microsoft (MSFT) is making all the money.

New, supercheap PCs available online from Walmart.com show just how far this trend has gone. The bare-bones SYSMAR710 PC from Microtel Computer Systems, with a monitor and hard drive that are fine for everyday needs, sells for just $199. The reason is that it comes with the Lindows operating system, a variant of Linux that runs some Windows programs--notably Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint--though it relies mostly on free software developed for Linux.

The SYSMAR150 for $299 is an all-but-identical system with the same microprocessor, 128 megabytes of memory, and a 10-gigabyte hard drive. The only difference: It runs on Windows XP. With Windows now representing a third of the retail price of the cheapest PCs, it is almost certainly the most expensive item on the bill-giving PC makers even more reason to gripe about Microsoft.

Corrections and Clarifications

In ``Microsoft's PC megabite'' (Up Front, Sept. 16), the SYSMAR710 and the SYSMAR150 PCs from Microtel Computer Systems do not include a monitor, contrary to what was reported.

Think housing markets across the U.S. are cooking? They've got nothing on the Hamptons, the weekend beach retreat of New York's elite, where the number of homes sold in the $1 million-$2 million range is up 86% over last year, as people pulled money out of financial markets and plunked it down on summer homes instead. Prices are up, too, by 10% in the Hamptons overall, and up as high as 25% in the most expensive towns there, East Hampton and Bridgehampton.

While these figures reflect sales for just the early part of the summer, wariness about the stock market continued to drive a mini-frenzy through the summer and into the fall sales season, which began in mid-August. "We've been inundated with people who are reallocating their portfolios," says Judi Desiderio, vice-president of Cook Pony Farm, one of the Hampton's largest real estate firms. "They're literally saying: `I want to take money out of the stock market. Here's what I can invest, so what can I buy?"' And they're paying cash in the millions, she says.

Only one segment of the market has declined: houses priced under $500,000. The reason? Hardly any left. Is that a bordeaux you're wearing, my dear? French-wine fans who just can't get enough of the good grape can now indulge in a perfume that smells like it. On Sept. 5--in time for this year's harvest--Cava Parfums planned to launch his-and-hers versions mimicking the fruity aroma that the best noses can smell in a Sauterne or a Saint-Est?phe.

Branded as Ch?teau Rapha?le and packaged in mini wine bottles, they'll cost about $50 in French department stores, duty-free shops, and online at www.chateauonline.fr. "Wine lovers will discover hints of wine scents in them," says William Spindler, co-founder of Bretagne-based Cava Parfums. He says sommeliers have identified the grape after smelling them.

Each cru is to be produced for one year before Spind-ler, who has worked for Yves Saint Laurent perfumes, chooses next year's fragrance. Don't worry about smelling like an alcoholic: The women's version has a citrusy-vanilla aroma, and the men's is more plum-musk. Despite recent bankruptcies in the rental-car industry, a few daring players are entering a new market: environmentally friendly cars. Business travelers, many eager to test new technology, are fueling demand, since they usually drive only the short distances for which the cars are best suited.

That has prompted Budget Rent a Car to double its eco-car rental locations to 12 North American cities in the past year. Cars come from five different makers of electric, natural-gas, and hybrid low-emission cars via Budget's (BDGPA) partner EV Rental Cars, which calls itself the nation's only environmental rental car company. Last year, Hertz (F) started offering hybrid and electric cars, including the Toyota Prius, in San Francisco and London. And Enterprise Rent-A-Car began offering several eco-cars in New York and California last year.

Analysts say the trend is growing. "Renting an environmental car is novel, it's different, and it's got a cool factor," says Forrester Research analyst Henry Harteveldt.

EV President Terry O'Day and Enterprise spokeswoman Sarah Bustamante both say they'd expand if they could just get more cars. "We've got more demand than we can meet," says O'Day. That may take a while: Toyota's entire U.S. run of its 2002 electric RAV4 is just 250 cars.


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