Understanding Microsoft

Part 49. The Patriot

"Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel." -- Samuel Johnson

When a public figure begins to see his or her influence, prestige, and popularity begin to wane, they may often try to find some line of reasoning or some cause that will allow them to hold on to their position of eminence. Having become addicted to their public esteem, they cannot imagine resuming a lifestyle of humility and toil. Especially is this true if the fame and fortune were garnered by harsh tactics, questionable acts, and cynical manipulations that would cause public shame if they were exposed. One easy cause to latch onto is Nationalism or Patriotism, appealing to the public's sense of collective identity and community pride.

The appeal to patriotism may be bold or it may be subtle; the goal is the same in either case: to cause the public to view the person or the company involved as a necessary element of culture and national identity, a hero, or at least an important figurehead. By figuratively "wrapping themselves up in the flag," companies and individuals try to make their unsavory business antics seem forgiveable, a necessary evil in the preservation of The American Way. Lately, one example of a scoundrel's self-proclaimed patriotism has been found to be Microsoft and its public figure Bill Gates.

When testifying before Congress, Mr. Gates consistently attempted to connect the following pairs of items in the minds of the senators and other listeners: Microsoft and the U.S. economy; Microsoft and innovation; Microsoft and freedom of opportunity; Microsoft and The Great American Success Story. The testimony (particularly the opening statement) was a carefully-crafted spin-doctoring session designed to implant the idea that anybody who believed that Microsoft should be chastised, regulated, or punished must be a threat to the economy and to the free market -- in other words, to question Microsoft is to be un-American.

But this is actually very good news.

This sort of modern-day McCarthyism coming from scoundrel Microsoft means that *they are running out of refuge options*. Microsoft has lost its vise-like grip on the developer community, who now (with a few key exceptions) recognize Java as the wave of the future, not Windows. Microsoft has lost the respect of many PC commentators for its heavy-handedness and its refusal (inability?) to produce reliable products. Microsoft has lost the support of business buyers and school administrators who now feel compelled to use Microsoft products because of leverage and momentum instead of quality, and are now at last recognizing their position on the churn treadmill. The only folks still firmly in Microsoft's corner are the PC vendors, who need something to offer endusers at boot-time besides a blank screen. Since Microsoft cannot count on the support of the rest of the computer establishment, they feel the need to attempt to redefine their logo as something a little less like a rainbow and a little more like the stars and stripes.

Most recent revision: April 11, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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