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Micro$h*t - selling the customer a problem

More unmotivated fashionable Microsoft-bashing? Unfortunately not. To be honest, I don't mind Windows being a somewhat buggy DOS shell, nor do I care that the concept for the Microsoft Office Suite was stolen off Apple. What I resent is the way Microsoft insults customers and non-customers alike, ripping them off, causing them endless headache and then going: "Of course the product is right for you, you're just not right for the product. You need to change your attitude. Say, you are paying for this, aren't you?"

And yes, I am aware that this is not just a Redmond (I keep wanting to say: Richmond) strategy, and that Intel is behaving the same way on the hardware side, and that IBM tried the same trick and paid for it. Only this makes it gratifying that OS/2 Warp lost the race, although it was decidedly superior to both Windows 3xx and 9xx in the way that Betamax was decidedly superior to VHS, only, the stupid consumers gave their financial support to VHS and Betamax became the choice for professionals, who know and need quality. And just like the famous "cupholder" anecdote, there is a story circulating of a Microsoft employee fired for putting online photographs of the workplace. Because, in the background, those photographs showed Macs, G5s if I remember correctly. Microsoft's software is produced by Apple products. Stupid consumers use Windows; professionals use a Mac.

What made me see red was a short article in some issue of the c't - a Dutch/German computer magazine for intelligent consumers that takes a critical stance against software patents, gives in-depth reviews on hardware and software for various platforms, and is not afraid to publish on subjects like nanotechnology and quantum computers - about some anniversary of Microsoft, because, remember, whether we love or hate the company, Windows is the most successful OS around, without which the computer would never have become the popular household article it is today. That Windows, is "successful", I concur; just as AIDS is "successful" in spreading very rapidly and making victims around the globe. True, Microsoft doesn't kill people, it just kills competition, alternatives, and the possibility of developing and spreading for general use, a system that does offer the stability and ease of use that Microsoft claims to offer. But that I would not be typing on my little electronic box (a Mac, by the way; but it might also have been a 486) today if it hadn't been for Bill Gates and his company, is a ridiculous assertion. That same Bill Gates once summed up the PC's Future According To Microsoft with the famous statement: "640K of memory should be enough for everyone." And indeed, the mission of the exponentially bloated subsequent versions of Windows seems to be to reduce the fastest, most modern machine to something that appears to be running on 640K of RAM.

A short, generalized recap of computer history. The earliest computers were not small enough to fit inside an ordinary house, let alone a living room. One did not own a computer, one rented the right to log onto a computer via a terminal, and use some of its processor power. This was the environment in which the Unixes, BSDs and other non-consumer OSes were developed. They needed to be stable first and foremost, as a crash would incommodate not just one user but whoever was logged in at that moment plus whatever scientific calculations were running in the background. The OSes needed to be safe, both from viruses and from nasty users trying to invade other users' computer space, or stupid users killing vital processes. But then computer time cost money, and computer illiterates would sensibly spend their money elsewhere.

After "miniprocessors" - still quite hefty machines - came "microprocessors", which had a fraction of the modern computer's power at twice the size. But: they fitted inside a living room, although they were more likely put in offices, libraries and study rooms with a tall dusty bookcase close by to contain the thick manuals. Computers were not, as it's called, user-friendly. A command line is all one got, and just as the terminal's only service was to provide its output "cooked" instead of "raw", so the only screens the new and independent micromainframe offered were constructed of ASCII characters. The first efforts to amend this did NOT come from Microsoft. The early consumer microprocessors were not, for that matter, PCs. They were Amigas or Ataris or Sinclairs or MSXs or Acorns. Or Macs. Today's PC is a "clone" of the IBM Personal Computer. All these exotic types had proprietary hard- and software, which typically offered graphical user interfaces long before either IBM or Microsoft did, and had more functionality and potential for development. I wonder whether "Amigans" and the like are so attached to their old brand for its qualities, or out of nostalgia for the time when computer development meant development, not just finding ways to snare consumers. But anything proprietary is a dead end (remember Micro Channel Architecture?) and the, to IBM, annoying discovery that the components of its precious Personal Computer were separately available for producers and skilled consumers to build their own machine that only needed an operating system - say, IBM's PC-DOS - to run, opened the way to the platform-independent consumer computer. What made the PC clone, nowadays called PC, so popular, is that it was cheap and customizable. NOT that it ran Windows.

The domestic, platform-independent consumer computer had two side effects. Firstly, since hardware had become cheap and interchangeable, the only way to really milk the consumers was through the software. (This situation repeats itself in the game world, with the X-box being sold at a loss and profits recouped through selling games, and the printer industry which gets its money from the cartridges.) And since the domestic computer served only one user at a time, stability was no longer important. I don't think anyone will disagree with the statement that the 1.0 versions of both PC operating systems and the software written to run on them are typically buggy versions sold to finance further development of the software into something that does work. That applies to MS-DOS, Windows, OS/2 and the many applications written for early office use. Compare that to the attitude of Linux open source programmers who number their versions 0.x, so that version 1.x can be considered an advanced stage of development. On the PC, not just 1.0 versions but every x.0 version can be assumed bug-monsters.

But, back to the OSes. My first graphical interfaces were a non-Microsoft Apple clone for PC and Atari called GEM, and a DOS program called XTree, which presented files and directories in the same convenient, user-friendly way later adopted by the Windows Explorer. The first widely used graphical interface was that of Apple. The concept of which was taken from yet another computer manufacturer. (Whoops, an article tells me that Lisa was in fact an Apple subproject which paved the way for the Macintosh.) Boy, it's a good thing no one had heard of software patents back then. (The makers of GEM faced legal action for cloning the Apple look, but all they were required to do was make superficial changes.) DR-DOS - Digital Research Disk Operating System, although I kept calling it Doctor-DOS due to some utility which, in retrospect, may not even have been DR's - had a directory command that also presented files in a tree. Yes, the Micro Soft Disk Operating System was not the only DOS around, even if "DOS" has become synonymous with "MS-DOS"; I used DR-DOS, had a copy of PC-DOS, and had heard of something called "PTS-DOS". All command-line OSes for which various shells and graphical interfaces were written, including - wait for it - Microsoft Windows, only usable as of version 3.1, which appeared long after other shells (Norton Commander, XTree Gold) had become popular. I saw no use for it and wouldn't have bought it, but it came preinstalled on my third computer.

Even then I rejoiced in diversity, and so ran DR-DOS and MS-DOS side by side. In fact, on my machine with its limited RAM, DR-DOS was necessary for some trick to load a memory-hungry DOS game. Being uninterested in Windows in the first place, I don't recall trying to start it from DR-DOS. According to info found on the Internet, this wouldn't have worked. Although technically the DOS shell Windows 3xx can run on both DOSes and possibly any DOS, something was written into it to prevent it running under non-MS DOSes.

I call that a dirty trick.

When I finally did start using MS Windows, it was because the growing amount of software and games that only worked using this shell. Because Windows is multi-tasking and command-line DOSes and other shells are not. Bullshit, of course. Windows is not multi-tasking but simulates a multi-tasking environment by letting the user switch windows. This is not some secret functionality to which only Microsoft has the key. Neither MS-DOS nor Windows is multi-tasking and in a single-user environment, they don't have to be. But okay, I began using Windows 3.11 and though its quirks drove me up the wall sometimes, I learned to figure out how it basically worked - WIN.INI, SYSTEM.INI, Program Groups - and of course it came with a set of games and utilities installed. I think MSPaint, Wordpad, Solitaire and visually appealing extras were the real factors behind the popularity of Windows (OS/2 Warp was spartan by comparison) just as dirty tricks like the one mentioned above were the real factors behind its success. Software producers either believed the MS bullshit or were afraid to get the same treatment as Digital Research. Or IBM with its OS/2 Warp, which would have allowed me to use itself, W311 and DOS together on one partition. But OS/2 Warp did not come preinstalled on my computer. It lay in a computer shop window being hopelessly expensive until the advent of Windows 9xx lowered its price and I bought it and would have used it, only now most software only ran under W9xx.

As the above shows, consumers don't use Windows because they like it so much. They use it because it is forced on them, through pricing, preinstalling, software availability and deliberate non-compatibility with other platforms. "Well, Microsoft doesn't force you to use Windows, does it?" No, but as the anti-trust court case against the company revealed, it does quite crudely pressure computer sellers to preinstall it - and the consumer pays for that installation! - and advocate it as a best choice. Bill Gates himself spoke of "killing" wayward sellers (in a strictly economic sense, one assumes) in memos produced in court that, oddly, he could remember nothing about. Such ignorance about the policy of his own company! After the first, phenomenally buggy release of Microsoft flagship Windows 95, which could afford to be buggy since Microsoft dominated the market now, consumers were getting pretty fed up with this weasel and his tactics. Vicious jokes and cartoons about Billy-boy were now commonplace, and on a journey in Europe he received a pie in the face, which news fact was quickly processed into a "pie Bill" Windows screensaver. What better way to say "we use Windows, but not because we want to"?

"But you use Windows, don't you?" Yes, because at work I have to use it and at home I need it for software I want to use and I have put MUCH time into learning to work with it; time that I now don't have available for alternatives like BeOS and Linux and FreeBSD and MorphOS and Acorn RiscOS - yes, there still are plenty of alternatives - since I have a forty-hour working week and no household drone to cook and clean for me. German civil servants are lucky, their employer switched to Linux. "Well if you hate Windows so much, why don't you switch to Linux too?" I don't hate Windows, I hate Microsoft. Windows in itself is not a bad product, it was shoddily made and dirtily marketed. (And yes, I also use Linux.) "Still, you can't deny that Microsoft gave PC users the best and most user-friendly GUI out there, can you?" Yes, I can. Remember Geos? A complete OS on one floppy, as opposed to three for MS-DOS plus six to nine for Windows? Lack of scruples and appealing to stupidity, not delivering quality, put Microsoft ahead of the competition. Stupid consumers will believe that the OS is not bad, no, the computer is too slow, and buy a faster computer and exclaim: "Windows has made my computer much faster! And oh look, it has Solitaire and a paint program!" Microsoft is geared at stupid consumers.

Which is why either Gates or some CEO had the nerve to claim that BeOS and all those modern Linux desktop distributions were just Windows ripoffs. Which is like Lockheed claiming to have invented the aeroplane, thinking no one will remember the Wright brothers. BeOS (Zeta, these days) traces its roots to Apple, whose windows pre-date Windows. And if KDE and Gnome are Windows ripoffs, Windows is an XTree ripoff. Go sick'em, XTree! They stole your layout!! But that's not the only bare-faced lie Micro$hitters tell. Here's another: the makers of Samba are violating Microsoft software patents. Samba is a means to share files between Windows and non-Windows environments, and given Microsoft's policy of non-compatibility, it is considered a threat. Samba is a product of completely legal reverse engineering through observation, and its makers have remarked in an interview that this isn't easy because the Windows networking protocols suck. And that, I'm sure, is truth.

It must be because ignorance serves its lies, that Microsoft wants nothing to do with its old products. What is the Must-Have OS today is outdated tomorrow, and an embarrassment to be jettisoned the day after. Only twenty years back, MS-DOS 6.x was in general use. This was issued on floppies, with the right to make one backup for personal use. Floppies, backups included, don't last forever. A distressed DOS user posted to some forum or group that one of her floppies had become corrupt, she had no backup, Microsoft no longer sold MS-DOS, would someone make a copy for her. She was told that this would qualify as piracy, although I'm sure someone slipped her a copy. There can be only one reason why Microsoft stops selling MS-DOS, yet may threaten with legal action anyone who gives someone a copy of it for any reason: we're not supposed to use it any more.

Microsoft doesn't want to be reminded of its command-line days. One of the many things that infuriated me about Windows 95 was the crippled DOS shell. Then came the renamed W95 patches up to the ridiculously named Windows Millennium, and Microsoft abandoned MS-DOS altogether and urged its users to switch to a dolled-up version of Windows NT, containing an equally crippled DOS emulator. Because all this time Bill Gates was also fighting for a share in the server market with Windows NT. A network expert I spoke at a job fair a long time ago professed that Novell was the most stable networking OS, followed by OS/2 Warp, with Windows NT at the bottom - and I didn't even ask about the Unixes. That's what the consumer is being served in the form of Windows XP: a third-rate server OS - crippled in the home user version, of course - with an interface best described as "Windows for Teletubbies", although thank heavens I can still restore the classic look.

The last desktop computer I bought, second-hand, had Windows XP on it. In Windows XP style. The buyer didn't know how much computer knowledge I had (there are computer owners these days who don't know what a folder is!) and looked on with embarrassment as what he assumed the worst computer illiterate ever tried to deal with the useless menu that offered me Music! Films! Instant Internet Access!! I wanted none of this. Where were the directories, the files, the applications? I had trouble even locating Windows Explorer. Does Microsoft think I just want a glorified home cinema/hifi set with inbuilt fridge for beer?? Isn't the damn Windows Media Center for that? Not only is Microsoft geared at stupid consumers, its Windows (XP or otherwise) is useless to anyone but stupid users. I trashed that partition and installed Windows ME, which is a fraction less stupid and, my reason for buying it, has USB support. The only vaguely worthwhile thing about Microsoft is its command-line days. Its Windows OSes have gone from mildly annoying to horrifying. In the end, the only good reason to use these OSes was that they supported FAT and FAT32, two of the worst filesystems imaginable and only so widespread because of the efforts of, yes, Microsoft, but the only filesystems that the command-line DOSes could read and yes, I still use these light-weight DOSes from time to time. And the only good reasons to keep getting new and more bloated Windows versions was additional hardware support, plus additional hardware sensitivity. Windows 9xx is so hung up on its own drivers that it will choke on any hardware it doesn't have a driver for. MS-DOS and Windows 3xx will run on computers where W9xx versions will crash after the booting sequence! But with Windows XP, Microsoft has really gone and done it. Even apart from idiocies like online registration: it has made itself completely unusable. The new version has absolutely no advantage, and since we're not allowed to use old Microsoft products, there's no option but giving Microsoft Windows (I never needed its Office Suite anyway) the heave-ho.

As if Microsoft is going to stay out of my purse so easily.

I did say Windows 3.11 came preinstalled on my computer. That is to say: MS-DOS 6.20 and Windows 3.11 were installed. Since the computer's price included MS-DOS and Windows, I was also given the installation disks - of DOS 6.0 and Windows 3.1. The files for the disks I needed were in directories DISK1, DISK2 etc. on the harddisk. I was supposed to provide the disks myself and copy the files to them. Those disks have corrupted from time to time but, I always had backups and have now burned disk images to CD. Just putting files on harddisk is not only bad service towards the customer but can cause trouble when the customer has to produce the original disks as proof that they were legally purchased - but at the time I was naive and thought this was normal. Just as naive customers these days think it is normal to get a computer with preinstalled OEM-version Windows and no windows CD, but only a Recovery CD or, even worse, only a Recovery partition. But I'm running ahead.

As said, that computer was bought as a package. The next computers I didn't buy, but assembled from separate parts. That's one way of starting with a clean drive. I then install, from disks, CD or whatever the OSes that I want to run on them; at any rate (MS-)DOS. I started using Windows 3xx long after everyone else did and was still using it when everyone was using W95. My first W95 installation, with gritted teeth and having already acquired a deep hatred of Microsoft, was a pirated version. This was after Gates' complaint about pirated W95 CDs in Russia (which reminded me of multimillionaire Michael Jackson complaining that his records were being pirated, and made me wonder if the Russians felt they were selling their soul as I was to even touch this filth). I was very glad of this later, for two reasons: i. this is how I came by the necessary system files to make a boot CD for someone with laptop troubles, and ii. I avoided being ripped off by Microsoft. This W95 was so buggy that just using its own Explorer made it crash. I had to install a file manager program, ironic as I was only using the stupid W95 because of software that needed W95 installed. Subsequent hardware configurations, especially added USB ports, stressed W95 beyond usefulness and it was time for an update. I bought the Windows Millennium update and wondered how it would do over a buggy, not to mention pirated older version.

It did fine, because it is NOT AN UPDATE.

It is a full version that only checks whether you've installed an older version before. If you haven't, or you have and wiped it because you want a clean install, it refuses to install. You will have to buy the "full version" for three times as much money.

I call that a dirty trick.

To add more insult, if you install it like an update over an existing c:\windows, old files don't get cleared away but stay to clutter the disk. Old settings are taken over, but this is not necessarily better than letting WME do its own hardware detection. And it's not as if you can revert to your old Windows. The cleanest install is by moving the old c:\Windows to another disk and having its presence detected, but not installing over it. Fortunately, I install all OSes to different partitions and could afford to wipe the first ruined WME installation and start over. And all this because the box says "update". Oh well, when I bought a Japanese W98 "update" to run Japanese games, I was prepared.

But that's not why I felt quite OK with pirating W95 - other than the disgust at using the product, that is. By this time I had already felt the pressure on consumers to Buy Windows Buy Windows Buy Windows, and heard of the pressure on sellers to offer no alternatives. MS-DOS was no longer being updated to deal with larger drives, and instead of a standard DOS partition I was including a standard Linux partition on every machine. Linux distributions are generally sold separately, quite rarely as a bundle with the computer, always including the distro on a separate medium to install on as many computers as the buyer likes. The average PC was sold with Windows, sometimes with a Windows CD, sometimes not. This Windows version was not the property of the person who had bought the computer with unasked-for pre-installed Windows; the user had a right to use Windows under the terms of some licence, which included not installing it on another computer. So if the old computer dies, tough, you have to buy a new comp plus permission to use a new Windows. Isn't it amazing that people prefer a pirated copy? Of course an honest person will refuse the licence and simply scrub Windows off the drive and get a refund.

Yes, if you don't want your preinstalled MS Windows, you tell Microsoft and they will refund the price of the OS, which was included in the price of the computer.


Some people tried this, just to test Microsoft's honesty. I don't know whether they succeeded, but Microsoft certainly wasn't helpful! Suddenly, it was the dealer's responsibility to deal with these requests! Ahem, just before Gates had to appear in court over monopolist practices - and the text disappeared off the web after that - there was an online appeal to computer dealers to "Sell your customer a solution, not a problem". In other words, to sell no clean computers, only preinstalled ones. Because all consumers are stupid and need their Windows installed for them, or else will install an illegal copy of Windows. How come illegal copy? Because they can only get a legal copy of Windows by buying a whole computer with that copy included, and must not install that included copy on a second computer even if that second computer is their own property. So if they don't get Windows with their computer, they will never get their computer to run (by legal means, anyway).

Given this construction, I'd say selling the PC with Windows is selling the customer a problem.

And that's without counting Windows' bad reputation for bugs and crashing, or unreliable availability ("No, we don't sell that old version any more and no, you may not get replacements elsewhere"). But this text, which completely omitted any mention of alternative OSes - let sleeping dogs lie - ended in "Otherwise, who knows what you might leave the customers - and yourself - open to?". In other words, computer sellers can be accused of piracy even for selling a computer with no Windows on it. With the meaning of the word "piracy" so distorted, I feel like going to the nearest lawyer's office and asking: "Uh, if I made a copy of someone else's CD of copyrighted material, would that qualify as piracy?".

This lawyer's office, if located in the Netherlands, would certainly be able to assure me that Microsoft's activities are illegal. Consider this: Microsoft forces the computer-buying consumer to also buy an OS, offering to refund if the OS is unwanted, yet not doing so. Dingg! This OS is in the computer and possibly on a CD in a sealed package marked "by opening this seal you agree to the conditions of the End User Licence Agreement (EULA)". To read any paper copy of this agreement the buyer has to break the seal. OK, start the computer directly: "Windows is configuring your system. ... Do you agree to the EULA?" Press No, and the computer closes down. User is forced to agree to something without being able to read it first and/or because otherwise the hardware won't work. Dingg dingg!! The EULA says that you do not own the software you just bought, therefore can't install and use it as you please in your own private home and can't sell it to anyone else. By the Dutch law of commerce which states that any agreement between buyer and seller has to be a reasonable one, this is about as legally binding as the sale of a living person's kidneys behind that person's back. Dingg dingg dingg!! And I'll pass over the legality of intimidating shopkeepers into selling something, and then making them responsible for the refund. So if Microsoft's lawyers turned up at my door to accuse me of illegal activities, I'd cross my arms and say: "Do tell."

It is my belief that Microsoft was and is being legally persecuted for all the wrong reasons. At the moment, a Dutch political has-been now making a living as high-ranking European Union member is pressuring Microsoft to publicize its formats. Nonsense. By all means let Microsoft's formats remain closed. Microsoft Word is a notoriously buggy, bloated monster - remarkable how software aimed at stupid users can be so unnecessarily complicated - and if it won't work with interchangeable formats, it will be ditched all the sooner. And no, Bill Gates should not be ordered to give away free copies of Windows to educational institutions, or separate Internet Explorer from Windows (the inclusion of InterBloat Explorer is such a good argument not to use Windows!). He should refund all those consumers who have simply wiped this software they paid for because they know they won't get their money back. He should be sued for millions in the traditional hysterical US style for emotional damage by the dealers he intimidated. And, here's a good one: he should be officially ordered to cancel the obligatory online registration.

That's Microsoft's latest strategy to make people pay for something they don't really want: online registration within 30 days, or the comp closes down after the expiration date. I remember a time before everyone was always obliged to be connected and online; when you had your hardware, your software, maybe a bit of configuring; done. How would consumers react if they bought something at a shop and were told: "Here you go, have fun with your toy, bring it back to us within 30 days so we can push a button on it, or it stops working"? Supposedly, this online registration is to prevent abuse of the registration key. With offline registration, you can use the same key as often as you like. With online registration, a central database can say: "hey, that key has already been used". This can go wrong and has gone wrong; people who have bought the game "The Sims" and any of its expansions may find that the key they enter to get access to the Sims site is "already used". No it's not. Something went wrong with their database. Fortunately the game can still be installed, it just means the user can't access the site for updates. As for me, I got in on the reg.key of another expansion pack I'd bought. Microsoft is slightly worse; its databases are still as shaky as online databases always will be, and it collects data about the user's computer to uniquely identify it and link it to the reg.key. Change the graphics card, and you have a new computer and are now illegally using Windows! In fact, change nothing at all and run into a registration procedure burp, and you are an evil pirate who must die! One user reported in a forum how taken aback he was at these messages suddenly filling his screen when he was just trying to register his copy like Microsoft tells him to.

Of course Microsoft respects your privacy and would never abuse all this data it collects on your computer. Just as Microsoft will refund your copy of Windows if you didn't want it. And if that sounds bad, Microsoft was one of the supporters of "Trusted Computing"; have a Big Brother chip in the computer that constantly watches for virus attacks (and if the software is legal, and whether the user has installed Linux, BeOS or other undesirables). Fortunately, few consumers are that stupid, and the initiative fell through.

No, I've never registered online. I've put two old comps together from parts and bought some hand-me-downs. The one that came with Windows XP on it broke down almost a year ago and I can't be bothered to fix it. And that while the version was probably pirated and hacked, harr-harr. Not that it mattered, the vile OS was trashed as soon as possible.

This was not so easy on the laptop I bought at a slight discount, with an AMD processor (no Intel, boo hiss) and well, no Windows would have been nice but you can't have it all. This laptop came with a recovery partition. After much restarting and fiddling about, for which I was obliged to "agree" with the EULA, I'd made the three CDs that the system will produce as "recovery CDs", the first of which was a boot CD. This CD came in handy, as wiping the existing partitions and installing Linux and Windows ME was much harder than I thought; for some reason, the drive would only boot from this CD. Finally, I got it to behave and I am now happy with my XP-free laptop, despite various unrecognized bits of hardware because Microsoft not only has this deal with hardware manufacturers to only make Windows drivers, but also to only make drivers for new Windows versions, and Millennium is old. But I can live with that. And Linux is still being developed, so who knows, in time...

The second laptop I bought, an AMD Turion (Windows Vista, no Windows CD) would not even boot from a Linux bootable CD. I assumed the CD was not bootable. So I booted to Windows, "agreed" to the EULA ("You'll be wiped in a moment, my pretty") and started the procedure for making a recovery CD. I was asked for 2 DVDs.

Or 10 CDs, that was fine too.

After gasping "What kind of an insane OS is this..." I bought a pack of DVDs, made the recovery DVDs and turned out to have no need for them, as after the complete erasing of all partitions with Windows contents, the Linux bootable CD was suddenly bootable and installed Linux with no problems. Almost no problems. There was an unforeseen limit on the number of partitions. Okay, just a few big partitions and virtual machines on them to run the old OSes in, as not even MS-DOS can deal with two processors. At the moment installation is on hold, as the laptop has a serious hardware issue (Do Not Buy HP Compaq Notebooks). But uhm... Damn user-friendly stuff, this Linux. Beats the shit out of Windows XP.

I think I have by now gotten the point across that selling the customer Windows is selling the customer a potential problem. Windows should not be included on a PC pretending to be a free bit of extra service or an integral part of the machine like the Mac OS or an indispensable piece of software. It should come separately in a box with a note attached: "This is Windows. ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT THIS?". Installing Windows should be offered as a paid extra, like a bigger monitor or harddisk, so that the consumer can see how mich he/she is paying for it. An extra option might be: delete junk after install. You will not believe how much advertising junk the Japanese version (or all language versions?) of W98 installs. On WME, the first thing I did was run System Restore Remover. Windows may seem user-friendly because it's so pre-configured, and it's fun playing about with the themes, but anyone who tries to make in-depth configuration adjustments will have to resort to third-party hacking tools - and this for an OS that contains its own (mediocre) internetting, websurfing, word-processing, sound-recording, movie-making etc. software. Putting in some hacking tools would make the shell more user-friendly, but what would stupid users do with them? What, indeed? Later Windows versions hide system files by default and smile to the user that any damage to the system can be effortlessly restored with the System Restore function - the user needn't know how this works, or how much disk space it costs. Microsoft commercials similarly sing that hackers and virus writers are threatened with extinction due to Windows' robust system (IT specialists would agree that this is a dangerous commercial, it could make a person die from laughter) and if you've got a virus on the system, you can just go on working, the new Windows can handle it. Especially given the growing number of computer users who are online all day, I blanch at the thought of dumb innocents happily continuing work, more and more of their files getting infected by some worm or virus and maybe having some keylogger transmit information to a spying cracker, because uncle Bill tells them it's gonna be OK. Microsoft hides its files and blindfolds its users and hopes there will be no collisions. Microsoft makes sure that certain OSes will either not run Windows, or not boot. (C'mon, why did that Linux CD not boot while Vista was installed?) Microsoft knows what's on your computer. Microsoft owns your computer. Or at least your OS.

Did I say that selling the customer Windows is selling the customer a potential problem? Selling the customer Windows is like selling the customer a virus. Yes, the virus can be cleaned off; either way, Microsoft has the customer's money.

Oppressive (step)parents who blackmail their children with starvation will not be happy to see those children fed by someone else. The name "Linux" has been mentioned a number of times. What is Linux? Before the famous court case (that bled uncle Bill but otherwise hasn't had much effect) Microsoft would have told the inquirer: "a cancer in society". Yes, Linux is a cancerous tumour, infecting people all around. It is an open source OS, meaning, anyone can look at the source code to see how it works. It is free, meaning freely distributable - depending how one gets by it, one does pay for it - and can be installed on any number of computers and used by any number of people. The only real end user agreement is that the user will keep this software open. A pleasant extra is that the Linux end user agreement - the GNU licence, to be more exact - does not contain this horrid small print about being forbidden for un-American countries and peoples; because Linux is not a glorious product of America like Windows (or Mac, which has the same horrid print) but a collaborative effort initiated by a certain Linus Torvalds from Finland. As the name "Linux" suggests, this OS - originally just a kernel, the rest of what makes up "Linux" is really separate open source projects - is Unix-like, so stability is and has always been important. User-friendliness has not, and it's only in the past few decades that Linux distributions have been working on their GUI - making them "Windows ripoffs". But since Linux was built for and by users who know what they're doing, it's also highly configurable. Networking is hot these days, which is why the newest no-longer-DOS-shell is a dolled-up server OS; Linux was built for networking from the start. It doesn't rely on retailers and can't be crushed off the market. And growing numbers of children are crossing the street to the free food bar and sticking out their tongue at papa Bill: "Who needs your muck." Yes, Linux is a cancer in society.

Microsoft has made an effort to impress this on its flock. Do not stray to Linux, it is Evil and Buggy and Will Not Work. (Pot and kettle? In fact, Linux's biggest problem is hardware manufacturers refusing to release specifications needed to write drivers.) When terrorism was the buzzword, open source was held more, er, conducive to terrorism because anyone could read the source code and discover its weaknesses. (And correct them. As opposed to Windows weaknesses.) And, um, what then? Scriptkiddies for the Revolution? Next offensive: Linus Torvalds was a fraud, he hadn't really discovered Linux.

The Christian equivalent of this accusation would be: Adam was a fraud, he didn't really write the Bible.


Once again, Microsoft clearly believes that everyone is as stupid as its target audience. "Linux" is the kernel, on the one hand, and many applications that run on this kernel, on the other. Linus Torvalds oversees the development of the kernel, which is his baby. But even the kernel code is not all written by him, and he never pretended it was. He certainly didn't "discover" this kernel lying under a compost heap, or floating in a lake. By the way, he admits that the discovery of Linux was not made by him, but by Santa Claus. Finland just happened to be conveniently near. No one shoots at Santa Claus, so now Microsoft has changed tack and is being very friendly and open-sourcey. The new policy is called "Extend and Embrace", or, as tiredly cynical computer users say: "Extend, Embrace and Extinguish". Still believing that people are all stupid, Microsoft tries to kill open source through infiltration, just as it tried to kill Java (a multiplatform programming environment, eek!) by sneaking Microsoft-only code into it; just as it created DotNet ("one platform, all languages") to lure programmers of various languages away from other platfoms; just as Bill Gates and his dear wife did some charity action in India to snare cheap programming labour and promote Windows over Linux, which understandably is quite popular in poor countries. Given Microsoft's habit of sticking a slimy tentacle in every opening, might not Microsoft be called a cancer in society? And a very malignant one at that?

Oh wait, I forgot one. Poster campaign for the acceptance of the new Microsoft Office Suite (forgot the version; connected with Windows XP): only Dinosaurs can't adapt themselves to our dynamic, fast-paced software. So, if you're sitting there wondering in bewilderment where all the familiar bars and buttons went, ask yourself: are You a Dinosaur? With some nice Jurassic monsters in the background. The sheer, jaw-dropping arrogance of it. If Microsoft had taken this tack before it dominated the software market, there would be no Microsoft today.

(Update 2008: while surfing about Minix, I hit on the story, in several installments, of Linus' supposed fraud, from the viewpoint of a professor Tanenbaum, who had found himself involved by the Microsoft-funded smear campaign: Some Notes on the "Who wrote Linux" Kerfuffle, Release 1.5. It shames the guilty parties right down into the ground, and I viciously hope it stays up forever.)

To get back to that anniversary article, what do we really owe Microsoft.

The success of the PC? Quite frankly, not even the existence of the PC. Its success came from being cheap and customizable. Which Linux also is, and Windows isn't.

The success of Windows? Not even the success of a graphical interface per se. In fact, Windows would not be hated as much as it is if it hadn't been for Microsoft. No, I don't hate the DOS-Windowses, I'm just very unhappy with them. The NT-Windowses are crappy over-GUI'd Unix wannabes, which I do hate, but I wouldn't stop anyone from using them; variety is the spice of life. Although Microsoft does not like that little word "variety". Indirectly, Microsoft is what made Linux so popular: "Thank God, It's Not Windows!"

A happy computing experience? How about: anger, frustration, humiliation, paranoia, the feeling of being had? Annoyance over all the software that "requires Windows to run", especially when it doesn't really? A sense of guilt at using the system marketed by a company with as much dignity and integrity as the gutter press?

Ah, but if Microsoft hadn't invented the PC operating system we all use today, the PC would never have caught on! Wrong on both counts: Microsoft did not invent MS-DOS, but bought it, developed it, programmed a shell around it and made it appear that the shell was the OS. The PC was a roaring success before the Windows shell, and there were and are alternatives. Microsoft might never have existed, and the computer world would be none the worse for it.

The user-friendly Windows shell made the computer accessible to all layers of the population? "User-friendly" depends on what one is used to, early adopters of both Windows and other GUIs spent a lot of time figuring them out. As for Microsoft's patronizing marketing approach, yes, the company did attract a lot of fools who think CD drives are cupholders, click on attachments and give spammers a reason to continue spamming. Helpdesk personnel love them. But can all layers of the population afford a new computer every few years because the OS bloats up with each version?

I feel I owe Microsoft exactly nothing. I feel Microsoft owes me two refunds, several millions for the emotional anguish brought about by its mind-numbingly stupid attempts at deception, and replacements for the CDs and DVDs I wasted for "Recovery" media just so I could scrub its latest Windows versions off the harddisks.

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