Understanding Microsoft

Part 2. The Cable Guy

Whenever you buy a new home, you usually expect it to come with a set of basic home appliances. In particular, you expect a stove, a refrigerator, and perhaps a dishwasher to be included as "standard equipment" or built-in furnishings. On the other hand, the housing contractor expects you to furnish your own beds, your own couches, your own chairs, and your own dining furniture. You are also expected to provide your own entertainment equipment and electronics; the contractor just does the house wiring.

Now if you happen to live in a totalitarian country, you can probably expect that all the home appliances will be identical no matter where you buy your house. You don't expect much in the way of choice. You probably would not expect to have much choice in the "extra" appliances, either, including your choice of entertainment equipment. Your phone would probably be provided by the State. "It's all part of the furnishings," says your local Party boss.

At least you would have some choice about where to plug in the various devices. You could choose to turn things off or to unplug them if you didn't like the devices, even in a totalitarian state. The phone might be bugged, but you could always choose not to use the phone. If you didn't like the television programs -- or if you were smart enough to not believe them -- you could just turn the set off. The house wiring would at least give you that degree of choice.

Back in the Free World, think of buying a computer as getting a new "house" for your data. It comes with several "major appliances." Most of the time, you must settle for Microsoft "appliances," such as Word, Excel, and Powerpoint. Just like a totalitarian regime, the Microsoft Party has made the decision for you, so you don't get to choose the brand. You get the same things, no matter who you buy the machine from.

But there's another twist. Just as the "appliances" are considered part of the house, so is the "wiring." In this case, the "wiring" of your software is the operating system. While the totalitarian regime at least allowed you to pull the plug, the Microsoft stuff is pre-wired. You can't unplug the "phone," because Microsoft Network is right there all the time. You can't unplug the "television," because Internet Explorer is hardwired into the system.

"It's part of the house wiring," says the The Cable Guy.

Yes, totalitarian Microsoft is now trying to claim that telephones and televisions are merely extensions of the electrical outlet! Not satisfied with owning the appliance market, Microsoft wants to become The Cable Guy, too. By attempting to build e-mail, Internet, and other capabilities as part of the operating system, Microsoft attempts to leverage monopoly control of the "house wiring" (operating systems) to include any communication device. Not satisfied with removing your choice of appliances, The Cable Guy is trying to out-total the totalitarians, making sure you can never choose to disconnect from Big Brother in Redmond.

Sure, you can choose to disconnect your phone line from your PC -- and then you will get the same mind-numbing advertisements scrolling across your screen hour after hour. Soon you'll be begging to get some fresh material. You'll beg The Cable Guy to hook up some WebTV or MSIE or some satellite box so your PC will be usable, so you won't go nuts.

Yes, the old-time totalitarians made life rough; but unlike Microsoft, at least the hard-liners didn't find a way to make you beg and plead for them to give you more.

Most recent revision: December 4, 1997
Copyright © 1997, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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