July 2000

Hackers. They're scary, aren't they? Writing viruses that flood your e-mail box with destructive junk-mail files.... Prying into the secrets of your system configuration, and perhaps sending detailed reports of your hardware and software preferences to centralized data repositories to be distributed among nosey data voyeurs.... Intimidating you into buying or loading new programs onto your computer, in order not to lose access to the Web or other important resources. Disgusting, isn't it?

The Phillipines government recently accused a young computer programmer of writing the "Love Bug" computer virus which quickly damaged computer files around the world. They claim that this damage amounted to something like $12 Billion in lost software and lost information, lost time required to replace damaged files, and consultant fees to repair corrupted data. The hypocrisy here is that while twelve billion dollars seems like a lot of money, it is very minor in comparison to the annual damage wreaked by a more prominent group of hackers: commercial Windows software programmers.

No, I'm not just talking about Big M. I am also including smaller software houses like Mattel Interactive. According to a US News & World Report article in the July 3, 2000, edition, Mattel's game and educational software often sends private data about a user's system configuration to Mattel's website for analysis -- secretly, without the user's permission! That's right, the user had to accept some hidden, automatic, encrypted software in order to complete the installation process -- on over 100 separate consumer retail programs. Who knows what kind of data could be damaged, or accidentally transferred to the outside world, from such unrequested and unrequired programs that "peek" inside your computer and report back to Big Brother?

As for Microsoft itself, I wonder just how many hundreds of billions of dollars of "lost productivity" and lost data, as well as other unexpected costs, would be chalked up to Microsoft bugs, errors, crashes, and self-serving programming decisions. I wonder how many secretive "spy" programs have been surreptitiously installed during the standard installation procedures. I wonder how many times privacy was violated, secrecy was compromised, systems were overloaded, data was lost, and people were driven into a furious rage by the hated Microsoft products.

But just as with the angry claims of the Love Bug virus victims, I'll bet you never see such loss numbers on any balance sheet, on any corporate account statement, on any stockholder prospectus, on any annual report. These are for the most part "phantom losses", because they are ignored and downplayed. How else could major corporations who possess millions of PCs ever justify the poor decisions they made in settling for Windows and other bogus products, instead of reliable, high-productivity environments like OS/2 Warp?

The phony economics of Windowism are also illustrated by a recent labor report published by the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA). This report stated that in the next year, some 250,000 new programmer positions would have to be filled.... while well over 600,000 technical support and repair personnel would be required. Imagine that -- 12 repairmen for every 5 builders! What kind of a "productivity metric" is that? This turns upside-down the old joke about "how many programmers does it take to screw in a light bulb?" Instead, it's become "how many repairmen do you have to send to fix the broken light bulb the programmers tried to screw in?"

Naturally, the only way the corporate victims of this technological snake oil can justify such wanton expenses is by constant downsizing, layoffs of the best programmers and most experienced staffers, outsourcing everything from garbage collection to accounting to website development to advertising. Only by severe, downward wage compression through monopolistic human-resource conglomerates can corporate profits survive the spiralling real costs of Windows. The recent stock-market washout shows that sooner or later these costs must be accounted for. Yet upper management remains as out-of-touch and in-denial as ever, refusing to demand a return-on-investment measurement for Windows that accounts for the real costs of lost data, fired geniuses, outsourced excellence, and unpaid overtime leading to fleeing workers looking for more stable conditions.

That is so true.... the Love Bug and all other computer viruses have done less real damage to computers and data and careers in the last twenty years, than Windows-based products cause in a single year! If an honest evaluation was being done in corporate offices, Windows would be quickly dispatched to the scrap-heap of history where it belongs. The reason companies will use sleight-of-hand and trickery to avoid such a decision is that it would reflect badly on the managers who were fool enough to accept Microsoft's slick, clever spin-doctoring. Meanwhile, virus damage gets immediate blame and is quickly assigned a dollar value because it does not involve a corporate purchase; it is something that "just happened."

So don't be fooled by virus victims shouting for a short trial and a long rope. These same people suffer far worse expenses from their own self-delusions, their own bad decisions, and their own stubborn insistence on staying with Windows-based systems no matter how bad things get. They can switch to OS/2 Warp and save millions of dollars on support costs -- if they are honest enough to admit that they were wrong to trust Big M.

As a nice bonus, Love Bug won't bother them any more, either.

*** UPDATE ***

The July 21, 2000 edition of the Nashville Tennessean, page E1, quotes an Information Week Research study done by Price-Waterhouse Coopers. The study claims that the global virus costs during the year 2000 will be $1.6 trillion, with U.S. losses at well over a quarter-trillion dollars. The study also claims that the bulk of the lost money is due to lost productivity while the computers are down.

If this is "real money," why does Mr. Greenspan not include it in his economic models? If this is "real money," then how bad is the dollar loss from crashed Windows machines and associated lost data?

Most recent revision: May 31, 2000
Copyright © 2000, Tom Nadeau
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