Understanding Microsoft

Part 6. Flower Children

The Sixties are Back!! Well, maybe. On the other hand, maybe they never really left.

The 1960's was a decade in which the battle lines were drawn between responsibility and rebellion, between order and spontaneity, between tradition and "good vibes." Depending on which side you're on, of course, we might have some disagreements about just who represented what. Responsibility has come to include responsibility to protect the environment, which was a very rebellious thing a few decades ago. Order has come to mean regimentation by peer pressure. Today's generation has accepted a new set of traditions while keeping some of the old ones.

But the biggest battle of all has little to do with what kind of clothing you wear, or what drugs you take, or whether you shave. The battle lines of the 1960's were also about control of information, about its processing, and about its dissemination. The battle is still being fought today, and with an accurate scorecard you can spot the players on each side. A company's products tend to mirror the values that the company culture promotes.

On the one side are big, powerful companies like IBM and the big banks. They have always stood for order, reliability, and caution, and their products show it. Products are generally only available after long cycles of testing, retesting, and verifying. The resultant applications are generally predictable, almost to a fault. (Some would say "boring.") But public opinion matters little when $600 billion in deposits could be riding on a single piece of software code. The data must be kept pure at all costs; no time for funny business, for cute and playful little distractions, or for grandstanding.

On the other side are companies like Microsoft and their cronies. Their products have a reliability and predictability that only a rebellious flower child could love. While attempting to appeal to Big Business as a cost-effective, rapid-deployment, solid solution, the realities have hit home hard. Instead of cutting costs, corporations now find it takes two to three times as much money to manage a PC compared to 1990 -- and PCs still do basically the same kinds of things they were doing in 1990. This is true despite the fact that hardware costs are 100 times lower for equivalent processing power. Software that refuses to be obedient and consistent may be "cute," but the consequences are not.

Perhaps the Microsoft mentality can be summed up with just a few short, seemingly innocent phrases found in their packaging. For example, on OEM packages like the NEC computer preload CD: "The performance of this software is the sole responsibility of the hardware company providing it." In a Windows "Help - About" menu, you may see the phrase "For technical support, contact your hardware vendor." In other words, Microsoft products don't even claim to work!

This is the mindset of the 1960's all over again: deny authority, deny responsibility, do your own thing and ignore the consequences. Instead of "Revenge of the Nerds," the real Microsoft story is "Revenge of the Flower Children," as Microsoft products let it all hang out, and leave their customers holding the bag. Customers are now expected to pay big bucks to help Microsoft fix its own products, to debug them "on the job" instead of in the laboratory. Instead of being predictable and reliable, their products seem to be headstrong and wild. Like a spoiled rebel of the 1960's, Microsoft products must wait for Daddy-o in Redmond to bail them out once again with a new version.

The most amazing thing of all is how many of the older generation have bought in to the irresponsible, decadent Microsoft agenda.

Most recent revision: December 14, 1997
Copyright © 1997, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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