Autonomous Source

January 31, 2004

Loathing Microsoft

I know libertarianish, pro-business, types such as myself are supposed to stand against the evil statists who wish to interfere in a legitimate enterprise. But instead, I've longed for governments to do the only thing that is right, and rip Microsoft to tiny little shreds. And then they should stomp on the shreds. Only this will allow a responsive, innovative, and reasonably priced computer software industry to emerge. Microsoft is bad. Evil even, if I may be so bold. You don't agree? You might be the last person on earth that feels that way. Let me try to convince you.

First, their products suck. C'mon, you know it. Windows XP sucks. Hard. During a period of deluded optimism this summer, I splashed out the cash to buy two copies of WinXp for my laptop and my desktop. I was robbed. On both computers I get the blue screen of death (BSOD) about once a week. On both computers programs crash with an alarming frequency (especially Explorer). If I had a nickel for every one of those "send a report of this failure" messages that have popped up on my computers since letting them be taken over by this hell-forged piece of software I'd be a moderately rich man. Remember, this is Windows XP we're talking about here. This is the OS that was supposed to fix everything; it was the OS that jettisoned the 'legacy' baggage from DOS that was supposedly the problem with all the other versions of Windows. The response from Microsoft? Sorry! Maybe next time!

And if their programs don't crash, they just bog everything down. I can imagine a motivational sign that probably decorates the walls of many Redmond cubicle farms: "Think Bloat! Do less with more!" It's the only way to explain the sluggishness that seems to plague Microsoft-infected computers. A few months ago I installed Microsoft Messenger because some friends were using it. I noticed a three minute increase in my boot-up time. Three minutes! What the hell is this program doing?!? It's a chat program! For that reason I rarely shut down anymore; I've had too many mornings when I found myself with my eyes popping out, shouting at the computer at it continues to grind away, seemingly doing nothing. Then, when I'm at my most furious, it would pop up a window that would give me the latest Britney or JLo news. It's as if they want me to go absolutely bonkers. Despite my decision not to log-off each night, eventually the computer does crash and I'm forced to reboot. XP's creeping memory leaks assure this

And the price of Microsoft's products is outrageous. Every few years you need to upgrade your PC and OS to do the same things you did a few years ago. (Bloat assures this.) But at least the prices for PCs have dropped dramatically. Competition! I can buy AMD or Intel! But there's no (real) competition in operating systems. Ten years ago the price of the OS was about five percent of the cost of the entire PC. Now, for the last machine I bought, it's become about twenty-five percent. If you want the software that will make your computer go (go slowly, mind you), you better cough up some serious green for the geeks in Redmond.

Of course these are not the worst of Microsoft's faults. If lousy products and expensive pricing were all we had to worry about from them, we could rest easy because the market would take care them eventually. Unfortunately, the market cannot offer us an alternative because Microsoft routinely undermines any new technology that might offer us poor schlubs a break from their tyranny. Take Java for example. Java offered a possibility that applications could be written in an open-standard programming language that could be run on any platform through a web browser. This was an idea that offered consumer choice and encouraged great innovation. But it was a threat to Microsoft, so they worked to destroy it. They agreed to use Java, but then created various 'enhancements' to it. These would work on Windows boxes but not on other platforms. This twisted potential developers and users into little knots and created enough confusion to kill Java as a mainstream tool. This is known as the 'embrace, extend and extinguish' strategy, and Microsoft has used it to throw monkey wrenches into many other technologies that threatened the Big Bill Machine.

Right now the internet -- the one open-source technology that still threatens Microsoft -- is under assault by them as well. In a few years time -- maybe three, maybe ten -- the internet is going to be the main communication and broadcast medium. You will talk (with video!) to your friends over the internet and use it to order Seinfeld episodes for pennies an episode (video on demand!). Microsoft can't own the internet but it wants a piece of that action. So it's planning to own the doors to the internet. Microsoft's .NET initiative is part of their evil scheme to be the gatekeeper for all of the common activities you will use the internet for in the future. Messenger and Media Player, which they promote relentlessly, are to be the portals through which they'll dominate you. Messenger has consistently resisted attempts by other chat client software to connect to their network. They have added video and voice functionality to it. An open source is not an option for these evil nerd demons; they want to be the one global phone company. Media player looks like a simple little program that plays music and video files. In reality it is the foot in the door that will entwine you (and the content providers) in proprietary data formats (so long mp3 and mpeg!) that Microsoft will use to get their cut of any entertainment broadcasts in the future.

Still not convinced? Well how about this: your computer is no longer yours. And I'm not just thinking of the clot of advertising that infests your machine after you first install the operating system. Think of your computer as a stereo system, which at the back has all kinds of plugs and interfaces. Similar plugs are in your operating system and are exposed to the internet. The nasty ambitious thugs who run Microsoft were busy before the release of XP thinking of all the types of services and whiz-bang gimmicky nonsense they could do with your computer once their corrupting operating system was installed in it. You didn't ask for them and aren't aware of them, but they're there. Many of them are not active, because there haven't been the opportunities yet. Some of them are probably duds and will never be used. Some are doing invasive things that Microsoft never intended. And some are being exploited by hackers just looking to create a little mayhem. But the point is: Microsoft no longer sees the operating system as a tool for their customers, they see it as a mass-marketing platform to sell you more services! And one -- I almost hate to point out -- that you pay for.

I could write on and on, but the time for words is over. Get your pitchforks and torches ready and prepare to march on Redmond! We have nothing to lose but out chains!

Posted by Bruce Gottfred at January 31, 2004 12:21 PM | TrackBack
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