#20 No Sympathy Here (1998)

All Rights Reserved © 1998 Thomas W. Day

The Justice Department's antitrust suit against Microsoft has put Billy Gates and the rest of us in an interesting position. You'd think, since so many of us are stuck using Microsquash software, that someone would feel sorry for Microsoft. From where I sit, there doesn't seem to be much of that going on. Most users are completely uninterested in the delayed arrival of Win98. I even hear a lot of IS types giggling about life with a bunch of Baby-Bell-style-Baby-Microsquash's. Microsoft and Bill Gates seem to have the same number of friends.

As far as Win98 is concerned, it really is a non-issue. It doesn't matter if it never makes it to our desks. It doesn't do anything we want to do, or take us anywhere we want to go. It isn't faster, smaller, easier to use, or more powerful. It's just Win95 with the Internet Explorer 4.0 "interface" (a computer-dweeb word for "the stupid decisions computer programmers made to make your life miserable") crammed into every application. Big deal. If Win98 is the face of a monopoly, I wouldn't object to the Justice department stuffing Squirrelly Billy into a maximum-security cell with Buford and Mongo.

At first glance, I was slightly on Microsquash's side. The old "who needs the government's advice" attitude, mostly, was at work. After thinking about where PC software has gone, these last few years since Windows aced the pitiful excuses for competition, I'm having second thoughts.

Don't jump to any conclusions, though. It's not that I'm feeling sorry for Jobs and Apple, McNealy and Sun, Barksdale and Netscape, or Slick Willy and Ms. America. Those goofs dug their own cesspools and they ought to get to spend their vacations wallowing in them. It's even less true that I'm feeling sorry for Ashton Tate, Lotus, Borland, and the other boneheaded drone software companies that have, now or later, vanished into corporate zombie-moron history.

The real secret to Microsquash's success hasn't been the brilliance of their software or business strategies. It's been that they've almost always been the last to adopt the stupid practices of their competitors. Sometimes, Microsquash managed to hold out long enough that those anti-customer tactics became obviously stupid to, even, Microsquash's MBA's. Occasionally, after outrageous stupidity became publicly recognized outrageous stupidity, the Gates Boys cancelled plans to copy those tactics and did something less stupid.

If you push aside the last decade's incremental improvement in software and hardware, it might be true to say that "things were better in the old days." Sure, it was a strain having to decide between OS2, Microsoft OS, Microsoft Windows, GEM, Applesoft, Mac OS, CP/M+, and Unix. For those who hate making decisions, that was a "bad time" in computing. But all those operating systems gave us some choices in how we did our work. If you were a keyboard wiz, being forced to drag your fingers from the keys to screw around with a mouse was obviously inefficient. On the other hand, a marketing goof, hoping his computer would stir some synapse activity in his still-born brain, could waste hours poking an animated, sound-effected cursor through Mac's "folder" structure, until a lunch appointment saved him from another day's disappointments.

You are how you compute? Yeah, whatever.

Back when a large number of companies were competing with Microsoft, we had free and competent customer service that didn't require suffering Yanni-on-hold for 45 minutes. If the corporate guys priced themselves out of the market, a dozen hackers cranked out shareware programs that worked better than the expensive brands. Executives didn't churn out hundreds of pointless memos, because they can't type and they couldn't figure out how to connect their Speak and Spell to a printer. You could get a job just because you were the only applicant out of 600 who'd ever seen the company's word-processing program. There were more network protocols than Arkansas women who "knew" the President; and networks were just as reliable as they are today. (Will "I didn't get my work done because I spent the day rebooting," always be an incontestable business excuse?) Men were men, women were women, and dogs didn't bark at ducks in the night and wake you up so that you have to get up and do a few hours of work so that you can get tired enough to go back to sleep.

OK, so things weren't that great in the dark ages. But they weren't any worse, either. The real issue is "do we want to learn yet another version of Windows?" I think the answer is obviously "hell no!" Win95 is the least of my problems. The last thing I need is for the IS department to blast every work application from my desk in their lame attempts to force Win98 on company users. The longer it takes for Microsquash to bring their latest bugfest to the masses, the easier my life is going to be.

Putting off OS upgrades would also save all those companies from their "IS professional" (an oxymoron, if there ever was one) shortages. While my current employer seems to have one IS dork for every non-IS drone (like me), Win98 would most likely double that ratio. To save the country from having more IS goofs than government employees, it's Janet Reno's patriotic duty to hire a wad of government lawyers and force Microsquash to hire a wad of non-government lawyers and save us from the plague of Win98.

So I say, you go, Janet Reno. Bring Microsquash to its knees and save knowledge-working consumers everywhere from having to watch years of work flushed down the "Installshield" drain.

I rest my case.

May 1998

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