May 2003

Every powerful tyrant has risen to the heights of achievement, only to wither and eventually collapse. If not in his own generation, then sooner or later, among the generations to follow, the golden age ends and the rising tides of decadence swallow up the empire.

So it is with commercial tyrants like Microsoft. Its golden age came in 1990 when it introduced its last truly reliable, consistent product: MS-DOS 5.0. Succeeding generations of DOS were known by infamous euphemisms.... Do you remember DOS 6.0, otherwise known as "Troublespace" for its data-butchering disk compression routine? Then came DOS 7, otherwise known as "the command line part of Windoze95." It was nothing more than a hacked, two-bit stub loader to get Windoze95 out of the 1MByte Real Mode memory space and into extended memory. Each generation of DOS decayed, fizzled, and became less useful as an application platform.

Microsoft recently admitted yet another flaw, defect, or programming mistake in its server software. It sort of reminds us of those never-ending Saddam and bin Laden tapes, doesn't it? "Yes, just another temporary setback, but we will return, stronger than ever, to vanquish the infidels who dare to challenge our orthodoxy!!" The so-called "orthodox" software from Microsoft displays new weaknesses and defects with the consistency and monotony of yet another Baghdad Bob press release.

This month's column is easy to write. It will be valid this month, next month, and for years to come. In fact, it is timeless. This is because Microsoft, having reached and passed beyond its zenith, is now a fading ember, a doomed ghost-ship sailing off into oblivion. Having fought epic battles against integrity, against law, and against the welfare of software users, has finally met up with the one opponent it can never defeat: Nature.

Yes, Microsoft's legal cronies can fool government officials into giving them carte-blanche to pirate the code of independent innovators, or to turn a slap on the wrist into a pat on the back. They can fool a generation of computer-industry journalists into supporting a decadent empire in the name of some imaginary "innovation," which is in reality nothing more than boring, tasteless knock-offs of somebody else's great ideas. They can fool most of the public most of the time. But they can't fool Mother Nature. No matter how much money, power, or influence a company has, there simply is no exemption from the laws of nature. Not at any price.

Take, for example, the law of entropy. Thermodynamic laws include a principle of entropy, which essentially means that any system will tend to break down and become more disorderly over time. Only the application of large amounts of energy can postpone the eventual decay of complex systems. This means that, since Microsoft products are needlessly complicated, bloated, and patched, they are certain to decay and become weaker over time. The application of massive amounts of energy (meaning: money, manpower, and other resources) is the only way to keep the convoluted, baffling Windows systems operating.

Yes, Microsoft can continue ignoring man-made laws, flouting the courts and then inventing excuses and phony definitions of words. But they cannot keep ignoring the laws of Nature. The more so-called "features" that are embedded in the code; the more of other company's innovations that are absorbed into the product; the more complexity and layers of fluff that Microsoft adds to its products, the more subject to breakdowns, defects, and security holes that these products will become. It is as certain as any of the other laws of nature. It is inescapable.

It is destiny.

Because Microsoft refuses to produce simple, elegant code (or perhaps is simply too incompetent to do so), and because their products are intentionally bloated instead of modular (being all-inclusive instead of user-selectable), its products are doomed to fail. Software buyers and corporate decision-makers ignore this fact at their peril, and that of their customers. You can't fool Mother Nature, the old saying goes. Neither can you bribe her, or get her disqualified. Nature rules. That means for software designers, simplicity outlasts complexity.

Most recent revision: August 3, 2003
Copyright © 2003, Tom Nadeau
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