Understanding Microsoft

Part 43. Gianni Versace

Clothing designers like Gianni Versace did something that nobody else in history was able to do: they found a way to make something obsolete by simply changing people's viewpoint each year. Clothing designers and high-fashion moguls realized a long time ago that they could manufacture new clothing faster than it would wear out; they also realized that they could make up new styles on a continuous basis. So they decided to limit the *purpose* of clothing to simply an expression of submission to a constantly-changing "party line" of fashion dictates.

It used to be that people bought clothing to cover their bodies, to conform to a societal norm, or to make a statement of taste and personality. Clothing had to endure the rigors of changes in weather conditions, normal wear-and-tear, and sometimes even manual labor. Versace and his cohorts decided that people shouldn't wait until a new political era to buy clothing, nor wait for clothing to wear out: instead, people should buy clothing whenever Versace said to buy clothing. The new "societal norm" would be whatever was "in fashion" in a particular season. Clothing could be sold on an annual or even seasonal basis, without regard to the years of use still available from the previous years' clothing stock. These suddenly "outmoded" products from previous years would be trundled off to the local 99-cent discount stores and swap meets for liquidation among the poor, or simply destroyed.

The idea of making people purchase unnecessary things was adopted by the great copycat of our times, Microsoft.

Microsoft realized that while technology changes, software doesn't wear out. Software is not physical and does not have "moving parts." That means that once purchased, a solid piece of software could last forever. This bothers Microsoft even more than it would bother a Versace, because once everybody had the software they needed, they might stop buying software. So Microsoft decided to put its customers on a treadmill of unnecessary upgrades, just like you might put a rat in a cage on an exercise wheel. Round and round the software customers go, every two or three years having to throw away their old products and buy new ones, particularly the growing companies that make purchases in bulk. Once Microsoft discontinues a piece of software and sells only the new version -- or simply doubles the price of the old version, without improving it -- corporate buyers are stuck on the treadmill. They must decide between two ugly and frustrating alternatives: either try to manage multiple versions of software, often having different interfaces and file formats; or else retrain the entire workforce on a new version of software. Neither alternative benefits the customer, but Microsoft doesn't care -- they make money either way.

Worse yet, the "new and improved" software is usually just like a Versace product: the material isn't any hardier or more reliable than last year's model, the quality of the garment has not improved, and all that has changed is the look and feel of the product. Similarly, Microsoft doesn't make their products more reliable or faster; instead, they change the look and feel so that everyone must waste their time keeping up with the latest trendy screens. It's no coincidence that both Versace and the Microsoft elite became billionaires. It's easy to get rich when your customers buy at your command instead of when they actually need to change.

Most recent revision: March 16, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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