Understanding Microsoft

Part 72. Don't Get Fooled Again

There is a classic old rock 'n' roll song by The Who called "Don't Get Fooled Again." It is a tale of a man and his contemporaries who rise up in revolution against a corrupt and oppressive state. After much bloodshed and sacrifice, amidst a backdrop of lingering doubt and the fear that the regime to come will be just as bad, the goal of societal overthrow is finally achieved. The song's closing lines tell the ironic outcome:

"Meet with the new boss,
Same as the old boss!"

Yes, this is the sad tale of a revolution that proceeded without regard to what was to come. This is because the assumption was that, barring unforeseen circumstances, the people would be smarter this time around. The people would learn from their past mistakes and the new regime would have to conform to principles of fairness, integrity, and openness. The suffocating oppression of the past must never be allowed to return!

The computer industry seems to have become a living example of this song. In the past, it was the regime of mainframe computers, white-frocked labmen, and stuffed-shirt managers that seemed to make life oppressive. Waiting in line for the printouts was boring. Waiting for the computer to return the job you sent it was frustrating. Knowing that your priority in queue was often dependent on who you were instead of the quality of your work -- that was unacceptable. Then along came the PC industry, and everything was supposed to change, right?

However, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Under the Microsoft/Intel regime, computers can certainly get our work back to us faster -- if they don't crash and lose all of our irreplaceable data. Asking for help produces the same level of obfuscation and buck-passing as before -- except this time it costs $35 per incident. Your priority in queue for new software solutions is now predicated on how many bugs, crashes, and wasted weeks of tinkering you are willing to put up with in order to qualify as a beta tester -- or just willing to be the first in line at the local software retailer.

The most frustrating thing about the whole episode is not that while the previous regime was overthrown, what has replaced it is just a more cleverly disguised version of "the old boss." Instead, the worst part about it is that this newfound so-called "freedom" has come at the cost of sacrificed reliability and predictability. The "new bosses" at Intel and Microsoft cannot wait for your anger to boil over before they offer yet another round of "solutions" and "upgrades." The old regime is gone, but what has replaced it is a never-ending treadmill of attempted fixes. The average computer user must now focus more on fixing the tools than on getting any real work done. Windows has therefore become a form of false Messiah to the hordes of software revolutionaries who thought it would bring an end to digitized oppression. The new boss is just like the old boss, except he vomits and screams more often.

Most recent revision: February 12, 1999
Copyright © 1999, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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