Understanding Microsoft

Part 59. The Saboteur

In the early years of the Industrial Revolution, many laborers wisely recognized that their jobs were going to disappear when the machines moved in. Of course, it wasn't so bad to have hard work done my machines, but the fact was then (and still is true) that the displaced workers would not be retrained to qualify for better jobs. Instead, they would be thrown out to fend for themselves. So, a number of these workers decided to try to destroy these new machines. In Europe, this took place when some workers threw their wooden shoes (French word sabot, or boot) into the mechanisms to cause physical damage. From this act we get the word sabotage, or saboteur: one who damages industrial equipment intentionally.

Now in the late twentieth century, it is not generally the workers who get upset about technology and therefore decide to damage industrial equipment; instead, it is more often done by rival corporations. Bitter competition and mean-spiritedness is rampant, causing some companies to decide that playing fair is just not an option. Rather than devote resources to improving the quality of their own products, their marketing, or their cost structures, some businessmen have decided to take the cowardly option of attacking their opposition using various forms of willful, intentional sabotage. This damage may be inflicted on manufacturing facilities, key employees, or on the final products themselves.

Microsoft has found a very original way to damage the competition: they simply design their products to fail to cooperate with the alternative systems. For example, the boot system of Windows98 intentionally moves some of the key boot sector data structures, making coexistence with superior products such as Linux and BeOS nearly impossible. Since the Microsoft product is usually preloaded on PCs because of Microsoft's preload distribution monopoly leverage, the computer user who merely seeks to add additional features to his or her computer is penalized by Microsoft in an attempt to prevent alternative products from sharing the same hard drive with the monopoly products.

It is an interesting coincidence that Microsoft chooses to throw its "boot" sector into the mechanism of the PC -- just like the original saboteurs throwing their "sabots" into the wheels of progress. In any other industry, of course, Microsoft would be up on charges of industrial sabotage. However, people seem to have a "blind spot" when it comes to software. They fail to recognize that Microsoft is intent on preventing progress, because progress would mean the eventual elimination of all jobs at Microsoft.

Most recent revision: July 15, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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