Silicon Continent

Surprise! Europe is finally getting its software act together--and going after America's lead

Staid German bankers probably wouldn't think much of Black Sun Interactive's corporate culture. At the software startup's Munich headquarters, artists have nailed artificial plants to the wall "to create a feeling of surrealism," says its exuberant chief executive, Franz W. Buchenberger. A life-size puppet named Jeff sits in the conference room, ready "to take the blame for bad decisions." By day, workers listen to music downloaded from the Internet. And during midnight powwows in the company's online chat room, participants don virtual identities called avatars, so Buchenberger is never quite sure who's speaking to him.

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