Understanding Microsoft

Part 77. The Greater Fool

(NOTE: this article is similar to a story that appeared in *Extended Attributes* a while back, written by Bill Schindler. See http://www.possi.org/.)

There's an old story about a couple of small-town grifters who met a snake oil salesman. They liked his spiel so much, they bought a carton of snake oil and tried it out for themselves. Soon others in the town were trying it, too. These two fellows bragged openly about the great deal they got because they were willing to buy it first -- to be on the "leading edge of technology."

Well, you know what happened after a few days. The snake oil turned out to be yet another bogus, worthless concoction. The two grifters were now in a bind. Their credibility was shot. Sooner or later, word would get around town that the stuff they had bought was junk, and that these two guys had been really conned bad. They would soon be laughingstocks, and nobody would ever trust them again. Unless....

Unless the word never got around town about how bad the stuff was. The way these two crooks looked at it, maybe they were fools, yes; but they believed everyone else in town was even dumber than they were. All they had to do was keep finding bigger fools than they were, and sell them on the idea. That's right, these two clowns were now co-conspirators with the old snake-oil vendor, solely for the purpose of saving their own reputations.

So they crowed out loud to everyone in town about what great stuff this snake-oil guy had going for him. They brayed like donkeys to anyone who would listen about how good they felt, how their knees no longer wobbled, and how good they slept at night. "A bargain at *any price*!" they would shout, making the snake-oil guy look like a kindly old soul for selling it so cheap. They wrote articles in the town newspaper, and even got the local reverend to give a sermon or two about it.

Once this craze caught on, everybody in town wanted some. The snake-oil salesman was busy for weeks, just trying to keep up with demand. The two grifters did not even take a cut of the profits; they were just glad to have found such gullible people to fool, to distract attention from their own ignorance and ineptitude. After a while, the "emperor's new clothes" effect began to set it; nobody was willing to go against the "conventional wisdom" in town about how good the stuff was. In a few days, everyone had forgotten about the two sharpies who had gotten the whole thing started, and people were spending money as fast as they could just to outdo their neighbors. The snake-oil salesman set up shop in town and soon became a wealthy baron.

By now you may have realized that the snake oil is none other than Microsoft products, and the high-tech grifters are the corporations and the media "experts" who believed Microsoft and told us to trust them. Microsoft has gotten fabulously wealthy selling junk, and nobody has called the PC media to account for their foolishness and ignorance. Now that so many people have been totally deceived, the vast majority of the public would rather risk their whole careers and their businesses pushing Microsoft products on others, instead of humbly admitting they were idiots to trust Microsoft in the first place, when so many other superior alternatives were available (and still are).

What is the moral of the story? You can't fool all the people all the time, but you can always find somebody who's dumb enough to help you fool most of them.

Most recent revision: June 2, 1999
Copyright © 1999, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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