Understanding Microsoft

Part 27. Time Bandits

There is a market for everything. In the final analysis, everything we do is based on economics, because we all have a limited pool of resources. Economics, the study of allocation of scarce resources among competing alternatives, dictates that we find the best choices in how we use the things we have -- money, possessions, talents, but most importantly, time.

Time is the one resource that all of us, rich and poor, have a definite limit in terms of our ability to acquire and possess. There are only 24 hours in each day, no matter if we are Joe Schmo or Bill Gates. Some of that time we must use for sleep, some for eating, and some for various other necessary activities. Furthermore, we are all getting older, and we know that someday the hourglass will be empty and we will have to sleep the long sleep -- death. So time is the one resource that we cannot buy, beg, borrow, or steal more of.

Like any effective monopolist, Microsoft seeks to find things that either are naturally scarce, or that can be made artificially scarce, so that they can control the flow of these things through the economy and dictate their price and availability. In the case of software, Microsoft has sought to make themselves the sole source of operating systems for consumer PCs, so that they could dictate price and terms of availability. This is artificial scarcity, because it relies upon exclusive OEM license agreements to prevent competition, as well as government dictates of copyright and patent law to prevent the otherwise freely available copying of its products. If not for federal intervention to limit who can provide copies of such products, operating system software would be free.

On the other hand, naturally scarce items like time require more subtle methods to control. If you want to control people's access to time, you cannot simply tell the earth to spin a little faster, or force everyone to sleep a few extra hours each night. Instead, you must find something to occupy their waking hours unnecessarily, in order to squeeze out "free time" or leisure time, and to force people to begin economizing their time by reducing the time they devote to other activities. You need a "filler" or a time-waster that will prevent people from effectively using their time; then you can begin offering them "fixes" so that, for a price, they can incrementally recover little bits of time, all the while enriching the provider of both the clock-breaker and the fix.

This is the ultimate result of Microsoft's Windows products, to steal valuable time from people's lives, to steal it in sufficient quantity that they must sacrifice other things. It takes time to retrain the mind to use Windows, a totally unnatural way of accessing information, and this time is then no longer available for learning other things -- like competing operating systems, or more powerful software programs from other vendors. With only so much time available to learn things, after people have invested time, money, and effort to learn Windows -- then, at just the right moment of equilibrium -- Microsoft introduces a new version of Windows, with new things that must be learned, new bugs to fix, new software to learn (since many of your old programs won't run right any more). By keeping people on a constant treadmill of learning new and worthless things, Microsoft hides behind the facade of terms like "innovation" and "progress" while it continues squeezing time from our lives, thus effectively preventing people from taking the time to investigate and upgrade to superior alternatives.

Most recent revision: January 29, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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