Understanding Microsoft

Part 9. The Pusher

One of the lowest low-lifes in society is the drug pusher. Not content with addicting himself to a substance, the pusher prefers to prey on the weaknesses of others. He looks for weak people, those with problems or anxieties they want to escape from, those who are looking for a quick answer to their problems and who don't have the guts to accept the tough answers, the true answers.

The methodology used by the pusher is simple: he starts by offering the product for free, or at greatly reduced cost. He implies that it will always be so, because he is a "friend," that he "cares." He will make an "exception" for somebody he really likes. So, if it doesn't cost anything, then there is no apparent risk or downside. After all, the victim will reason, I can always quit if I don't like it. And if other people are willing to pay for it, it must be good stuff.

After the first few episodes of abuse, the victim has developed a craving for the dope. He doesn't just want it, he needs it. The dope has become a regular fixture of his life, maybe even the central purpose of his existence. And now, the pusher begins charging for it. Just a little at first, of course, until the victim gets used to making payments. Then the payment level will be jacked up until the victim must do something very unorthodox to make those huge payments -- he must become a pusher himself. The original pusher is now well on his way to building a criminal empire, a pyramid of control by addiction.

Most people don't recognize that software has the same narcotic effect on the business process that drugs have on the human body: businesses become dependent on their software tools. Software has the interesting effect of seeming to promote professionalism, independence, and power; however, the reality is that businesses are just trading one form of dependency for another. Instead of being dependent on employees such as secretaries or accountants, businesses are now dependent on their software vendor. To dump the software and change to manual methods is probably the most frightening prospect a company can face. For example: How do we get our data back out of the machine? Having lost track of how to tabulate, record, and manipulate data, how will we devise methods for doing these things? Where can we find workers who can count and spell correctly?

Changing software vendors, particularly after several years of using the same software package, can often be just as frightening a proposition. How long will it take to learn the new system? How can we be sure we won't lose any data? Will our computer supplier support the new system? What if we don't like it -- can we change back? What about our lost investment in the previous software?

Unfortunately, Microsoft and other software vendors don't raise these issues up front. Instead, they just sell the "solution," as if that will be the end of it. Little do the victims know, it's only the beginning. As the complexity of the "solution" goes up, as the amount of data increases, the cost of backing out goes up very quickly. Soon a business has sold its soul to the software vendor, and might even become an agent to represent the software vendor the business's own clients -- becoming, in effect, another level of pusher.

The essence of the pusher, then, is his ability to begin the process with large amounts of capital so that the entry cost of the victim is financed at a loss. Microsoft, with its huge cash reserves and ready army of "pushers," is more willing and more able to lower the entry costs of its targets than almost anyone else. Meanwhile, its software is more convoluted and disorderly than almost anyone else's, making the backout costs extremely high. Thus, by the unusual combination of shoddy products and bloated profits, Microsoft becomes the most effective "pusher" of all.

Most recent revision: December 16, 1997
Copyright © 1997, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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