Understanding Microsoft

Part 61. Good Cop, Bad Cop

A classic technique of psychological manipulation used by police interrogation teams is known as "good cop, bad cop." This is based on the idea that a person who has been abused is willing to drop his or her guard when a sympathetic listener arrives on the scene as some sort of "rescuer" or protector. As a result, the subject being interrogated will view the "good cop" as "good" merely in comparison to the "badness" of the previous interrogator. This is extremely effective and is therefore common in many other areas besides police work.

A similar use of punish-then-reward is involved in the Microsoft dual-track operating system scheme. By flooding the market with wimpy operating systems like Windows and Windows95/98, Microsoft has angered an entire generation of computer users. Particularly upset are those more-experienced users who remember the pre-Windows days when software actually worked reliably and was predictable and easy to repair and adjust. This is the "bad cop" phase, which builds a sense of victimhood and near-paranoia among the members of the buying public. Compared to the current crop of mass-marketed software kludges, almost anything else looks like a savior.

Soon, Microsoft plans to introduce a consumer version of Windows NT -- they claim -- which might actually have some degree of reliability. But this will only be relative. NT is only reliable relative to sloppy con-jobs like Windows and Windows95/98. This will be the "good cop" phase, during which computer users are supposed to welcome this NT Lite as some sort of grand improvement and significant step forward for computing. Of course, any modest improvement presented by this NT Lite is false, since the "bad cop" products lowered the standards so far down in advance of the new model.

Microsoft has been making book on the fact that the public has a short collective memory. Since most PC users will be extremely frustrated when the current versions of Windows fail at the Year2000 boundary (as they likely will), they will be ready for a "good cop" to come to their rescue. Microsoft will of course be only too happy to oblige. The problem will then be that Windows NT is not really a good cop at all; it's just a bigger, slower kludge with a lot more compatibility and support problems than the other Microsoft operating systems. Perhaps this will prove to be a case of "bad cop, WORSE cop."

Most recent revision: August 2, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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