Understanding Microsoft

Part 32. The Big Lie

"People are much more susceptible to the big lie than to the small one, for they already tell little lies every day. They cannot imagine that someone would actually fabricate a colossal lie." - Adolph Hitler, Mein Kampf.

If you tell a lie loud enough and long enough, after a while it may become believable in the minds of those to whom the propaganda is directed. This is the principle behind every form of religious cult, every form of sadistic and brutal dictatorship, and every form of brainwashing: the repetition of a lie to the point of acceptance into the culture of the indoctrinated. Nowadays this form of thought control has found a new field of endeavor: business.

The Big Lie as promoted by Microsoft is very simple: "Windows improves productivity because it is intuitive." This is really a two-part lie. First, we must accept without question the Microsoft assertion that Windows is intuitive -- whatever that means. Then we must make the leap of faith that a so-called intuitive software product will automatically make people more productive. Microsoft has been very effective at promoting both parts of this lie, to the point that people will even change measurements and definitions in order to make the real results somehow fit into the new expectations caused by these false statements.

The fact is that Windows and other GUIs are intuitive only for chimpanzees and infants. Chimps can be retrained to communicate with a palette of icons, and they will then submissively obey orders to manipulate those objects represented by the icons, or to point to the appropriate icon when asked. Infants, of course, have not yet developed their built-in reading faculties and can only understand graphics. But when was the last time you made a grocery list using icons instead of words? The human mind communicates most efficiently, most eloquently, and most precisely with well-structured text. Windows only seems easier because it reduces communication to the lowest-common-denominator, not because it is "intuitive." Calling Windows intuitive is like calling cartoons educational because they reduce life to the simplest terms. Perhaps cartoons make a worthy distraction, but imitating cartoons on a computer screen actually reprograms the brain toward illiteracy instead of intelligence.

But even if a computer program was "intuitive," would this necessarily make people more productive? For example, would a toaster be more productive if it inserted the bread automatically, but always burnt the toast? Sure, you would get lots of toast, but it would be essentially useless. The most productive system is the one that combines high reliability with high data rate, and Windows has neither. Windows is both slower than text-based systems, and also less reliable. Windows is easier to approach but harder to understand; one uses Windows without an understanding of data processing principles, which leads to all sorts of foolish errors and oversights. Windows provides a momentary "high" but often a disastrous "low" in the long run.

So once the real-world data from the debacle of Windows comes pouring in, what do the data managers do? They begin to participate in the Big Lie themselves, in order to save their own necks. Having bought the phony expectations hook, line, and sinker, the resultant productivity must be improved at all costs -- including downsizing workers, cutting costs, forcing unpaid overtime, hiring temp workers -- whatever it takes to boost the "apparent productivity" while the real per-hour productivity falls. It is only a matter of time before the Big Lie gets exposed and the charlatans in Redmond head for the hills with their unworthy profits.

Most recent revision: February 12, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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