Micro$h*t - selling the customer a problem

More unmotivated fashionable Microsoft-bashing? Unfortunately not. To behonest, I don't mind Windows being a somewhat buggy DOS shell, nor do I carethat the concept for the Microsoft Office Suite was stolen off Apple. What Iresent is the way Microsoft insults customers and non-customers alike, rippingthem off, causing them endless headache and then going: "Of course the productis right for you, you're just not right for the product. You need to change yourattitude. Say, you are paying for this, aren't you?"

And yes, I am aware that this is not just a Redmond (I keep wanting to say:Richmond) strategy, and that Intel is behaving the same way on the hardwareside, and that IBM tried the same trick and paid for it. Only this makes itgratifying that OS/2 Warp lost the race, although it was decidedly superior toboth Windows 3xx and 9xx in the way that Betamax was decidedly superior to VHS,only, the stupid consumers gave their financial support to VHS and Betamaxbecame the choice for professionals, who know and need quality. And just likethe famous "cupholder" anecdote, there is a story circulating of a Microsoftemployee fired for putting online photographs of the workplace. Because, in thebackground, those photographs showed Macs, G5s if I remember correctly.Microsoft's software is produced by Apple products. Stupid consumers useWindows; professionals use a Mac.

What made me see red was a short article in some issue of the c't - aDutch/German computer magazine for intelligent consumers that takes acritical stance against software patents, gives in-depth reviews on hardware andsoftware for various platforms, and is not afraid to publish on subjects likenanotechnology and quantum computers - about some anniversary of Microsoft,because, remember, whether we love or hate the company, Windows is the mostsuccessful OS around, without which the computer would never have become thepopular household article it is today. That Windows, is "successful", I concur;just as AIDS is "successful" in spreading very rapidly and making victims aroundthe globe. True, Microsoft doesn't kill people, it just kills competition,alternatives, and the possibility of developing and spreading for general use, asystem that does offer the stability and ease of use that Microsoftclaims to offer. But that I would not be typing on my little electronic box (aMac, by the way; but it might also have been a 486) today if it hadn't been forBill Gates and his company, is a ridiculous assertion. That same Bill Gates oncesummed up the PC's Future According To Microsoft with the famous statement:"640K of memory should be enough for everyone." And indeed, the mission of theexponentially bloated subsequent versions of Windows seems to be to reduce thefastest, most modern machine to something that appears to be running on 640K ofRAM.

A short, generalized recap of computer history. The earliest computers werenot small enough to fit inside an ordinary house, let alone a living room. Onedid not own a computer, one rented the right to log onto a computer via aterminal, and use some of its processor power. This was the environment in whichthe Unixes, BSDs and other non-consumer OSes were developed. They needed to bestable first and foremost, as a crash would incommodate not just one user butwhoever was logged in at that moment plus whatever scientific calculations wererunning in the background. The OSes needed to be safe, both from viruses andfrom nasty users trying to invade other users' computer space, or stupid userskilling vital processes. But then computer time cost money, and computerilliterates would sensibly spend their money elsewhere.

After "miniprocessors" - still quite hefty machines - came "microprocessors",which had a fraction of the modern computer's power at twice the size. But: theyfitted inside a living room, although they were more likely put in offices,libraries and study rooms with a tall dusty bookcase close by to contain thethick manuals. Computers were not, as it's called, user-friendly. A command lineis all one got, and just as the terminal's only service was to provide itsoutput "cooked" instead of "raw", so the only screens the new and independentmicromainframe offered were constructed of ASCII characters. The first effortsto amend this did NOT come from Microsoft. The early consumer microprocessorswere not, for that matter, PCs. They were Amigas or Ataris or Sinclairs or MSXsor Acorns. Or Macs. Today's PC is a "clone" of the IBM Personal Computer. Allthese exotic types had proprietary hard- and software, which typically offeredgraphical user interfaces long before either IBM or Microsoft did, and had morefunctionality and potential for development. I wonder whether "Amigans" and thelike are so attached to their old brand for its qualities, or out of nostalgiafor the time when computer development meant development, not justfinding ways to snare consumers. But anything proprietary is a dead end(remember Micro Channel Architecture?) and the, to IBM, annoying discovery thatthe components of its precious Personal Computer were separately available forproducers and skilled consumers to build their own machine that only needed anoperating system - say, IBM's PC-DOS - to run, opened the way to theplatform-independent consumer computer. What made the PC clone, nowadays calledPC, so popular, is that it was cheap and customizable. NOT that it ran Windows.

The domestic, platform-independent consumer computer had two side effects.Firstly, since hardware had become cheap and interchangeable, the only way toreally milk the consumers was through the software. (This situation repeatsitself in the game world, with the X-box being sold at a loss and profitsrecouped through selling games, and the printer industry which gets its moneyfrom the cartridges.) And since the domestic computer served only one user at atime, stability was no longer important. I don't think anyone willdisagree with the statement that the 1.0 versions of both PC operating systemsand the software written to run on them are typically buggy versions sold tofinance further development of the software into something that doeswork. That applies to MS-DOS, Windows, OS/2 and the many applications writtenfor early office use. Compare that to the attitude of Linux open sourceprogrammers who number their versions 0.x, so that version 1.x can be consideredan advanced stage of development. On the PC, not just 1.0 versions but every x.0version can be assumed bug-monsters.

But, back to the OSes. My first graphical interfaces were a non-MicrosoftApple clone for PC and Atari called GEM, and a DOS program called XTree, whichpresented files and directories in the same convenient, user-friendly way lateradopted by the Windows Explorer. The first widely used graphical interface wasthat of Apple. The concept of which was taken from yet another computermanufacturer. (Whoops, an article tells me that Lisa was in fact an Applesubproject which paved the way for the Macintosh.) Boy, it's a good thing no one had heard of software patents back then. (The makers of GEM faced legal actionfor cloning the Apple look, but all they were required to do was make superficialchanges.) DR-DOS - Digital Research Disk Operating System, although I kept callingit Doctor-DOS due to some utility which, in retrospect, may not even have beenDR's - had a directory command that also presented files in a tree. Yes, theMicro Soft Disk Operating System was not the only DOS around, even if "DOS" hasbecome synonymous with "MS-DOS"; I used DR-DOS, had a copy of PC-DOS, and hadheard of something called "PTS-DOS". All command-line OSes for which variousshells and graphical interfaces were written, including - wait for it -Microsoft Windows, only usable as of version 3.1, which appeared long afterother shells (Norton Commander, XTree Gold) had become popular. I saw no use forit and wouldn't have bought it, but it came preinstalled on my third computer.

Even then I rejoiced in diversity, and so ran DR-DOS and MS-DOS side by side.In fact, on my machine with its limited RAM, DR-DOS was necessary for some trickto load a memory-hungry DOS game. Being uninterested in Windows in the firstplace, I don't recall trying to start it from DR-DOS. According to info found onthe Internet, this wouldn't have worked. Although technically the DOS shellWindows 3xx can run on both DOSes and possibly any DOS, something was writteninto it to prevent it running under non-MS DOSes.

I call that a dirty trick.

When I finally did start using MS Windows, it was because the growing amountof software and games that only worked using this shell. Because Windows ismulti-tasking and command-line DOSes and other shells are not. Bullshit, ofcourse. Windows is not multi-tasking but simulates a multi-tasking environmentby letting the user switch windows. This is not some secret functionality towhich only Microsoft has the key. Neither MS-DOS nor Windows is multi-taskingand in a single-user environment, they don't have to be. But okay, I began usingWindows 3.11 and though its quirks drove me up the wall sometimes, I learned tofigure out how it basically worked - WIN.INI, SYSTEM.INI, Program Groups - andof course it came with a set of games and utilities installed. I think MSPaint,Wordpad, Solitaire and visually appealing extras were the real factors behindthe popularity of Windows (OS/2 Warp was spartan by comparison) just as dirtytricks like the one mentioned above were the real factors behind its success.Software producers either believed the MS bullshit or were afraid to get thesame treatment as Digital Research. Or IBM with its OS/2 Warp, which would haveallowed me to use itself, W311 and DOS together on one partition. But OS/2 Warpdid not come preinstalled on my computer. It lay in a computer shop window beinghopelessly expensive until the advent of Windows 9xx lowered its price and Ibought it and would have used it, only now most software only ran underW9xx.

As the above shows, consumers don't use Windows because they like it so much.They use it because it is forced on them, through pricing, preinstalling,software availability and deliberate non-compatibility with other platforms."Well, Microsoft doesn't force you to use Windows, does it?" No, but as theanti-trust court case against the company revealed, it does quite crudelypressure computer sellers to preinstall it - and the consumer pays forthat installation! - and advocate it as a best choice. Bill Gates himself spokeof "killing" wayward sellers (in a strictly economic sense, one assumes) inmemos produced in court that, oddly, he could remember nothing about. Suchignorance about the policy of his own company! After the first, phenomenallybuggy release of Microsoft flagship Windows 95, which could afford to be buggysince Microsoft dominated the market now, consumers were getting pretty fed upwith this weasel and his tactics. Vicious jokes and cartoons about Billy-boywere now commonplace, and on a journey in Europe he received a pie in the face,which news fact was quickly processed into a "pie Bill" Windows screensaver.What better way to say "we use Windows, but not because we want to"?

"But you use Windows, don't you?" Yes, because at work I have to useit and at home I need it for software I want to use and I have put MUCH timeinto learning to work with it; time that I now don't have available foralternatives like BeOS and Linux and FreeBSD and MorphOS and Acorn RiscOS - yes,there still are plenty of alternatives - since I have a forty-hour working weekand no household drone to cook and clean for me. German civil servants arelucky, their employer switched to Linux. "Well if you hate Windows so much, whydon't you switch to Linux too?" I don't hate Windows, I hate Microsoft. Windowsin itself is not a bad product, it was shoddily made and dirtily marketed. (Andyes, I also use Linux.) "Still, you can't deny that Microsoft gave PC users thebest and most user-friendly GUI out there, can you?" Yes, I can. Remember Geos?A complete OS on one floppy, as opposed to three for MS-DOS plus six to nine forWindows? Lack of scruples and appealing to stupidity, not delivering quality,put Microsoft ahead of the competition. Stupid consumers will believe that theOS is not bad, no, the computer is too slow, and buy a faster computer andexclaim: "Windows has made my computer much faster! And oh look, it hasSolitaire and a paint program!" Microsoft is geared at stupid consumers.

Which is why either Gates or some CEO had the nerve to claim that BeOS andall those modern Linux desktop distributions were just Windows ripoffs. Which islike Lockheed claiming to have invented the aeroplane, thinking no one willremember the Wright brothers. BeOS (Zeta, these days) traces its roots to Apple,whose windows pre-date Windows. And if KDE and Gnome are Windows ripoffs,Windows is an XTree ripoff. Go sick'em, XTree! They stole your layout!! Butthat's not the only bare-faced lie Micro$hitters tell. Here's another: themakers of Samba are violating Microsoft software patents. Samba is a means toshare files between Windows and non-Windows environments, and given Microsoft'spolicy of non-compatibility, it is considered a threat. Samba is a product ofcompletely legal reverse engineering through observation, and its makers haveremarked in an interview that this isn't easy because the Windows networkingprotocols suck. And that, I'm sure, is truth.

It must be because ignorance serves its lies, that Microsoft wants nothing todo with its old products. What is the Must-Have OS today is outdated tomorrow,and an embarrassment to be jettisoned the day after. Only twenty years back,MS-DOS 6.x was in general use. This was issued on floppies, with the right tomake one backup for personal use. Floppies, backups included, don't lastforever. A distressed DOS user posted to some forum or group that one of herfloppies had become corrupt, she had no backup, Microsoft no longer sold MS-DOS,would someone make a copy for her. She was told that this would qualify aspiracy, although I'm sure someone slipped her a copy. There can be only onereason why Microsoft stops selling MS-DOS, yet may threaten with legal actionanyone who gives someone a copy of it for any reason: we're not supposed to useit any more.

Microsoft doesn't want to be reminded of its command-line days. One of themany things that infuriated me about Windows 95 was the crippled DOS shell. Thencame the renamed W95 patches up to the ridiculously named Windows Millennium,and Microsoft abandoned MS-DOS altogether and urged its users to switch to adolled-up version of Windows NT, containing an equally crippled DOS emulator.Because all this time Bill Gates was also fighting for a share in the servermarket with Windows NT. A network expert I spoke at a job fair a long time agoprofessed that Novell was the most stable networking OS, followed by OS/2 Warp,with Windows NT at the bottom - and I didn't even ask about the Unixes. That'swhat the consumer is being served in the form of Windows XP: a third-rate serverOS - crippled in the home user version, of course - with an interface bestdescribed as "Windows for Teletubbies", although thank heavens I can stillrestore the classic look.

The last desktop computer I bought, second-hand, had Windows XP on it. InWindows XP style. The buyer didn't know how much computer knowledge I had (thereare computer owners these days who don't know what a folder is!) and looked onwith embarrassment as what he assumed the worst computer illiterate ever triedto deal with the useless menu that offered me Music! Films! Instant InternetAccess!! I wanted none of this. Where were the directories, the files, theapplications? I had trouble even locating Windows Explorer. Does Microsoft thinkI just want a glorified home cinema/hifi set with inbuilt fridge for beer??Isn't the damn Windows Media Center for that? Not only is Microsoft geared atstupid consumers, its Windows (XP or otherwise) is useless to anyone but stupidusers. I trashed that partition and installed Windows ME, which is a fractionless stupid and, my reason for buying it, has USB support. The only vaguelyworthwhile thing about Microsoft is its command-line days. Its Windows OSes havegone from mildly annoying to horrifying. In the end, the only good reason to usethese OSes was that they supported FAT and FAT32, two of the worst filesystemsimaginable and only so widespread because of the efforts of, yes, Microsoft, butthe only filesystems that the command-line DOSes could read and yes, I still usethese light-weight DOSes from time to time. And the only good reasons to keepgetting new and more bloated Windows versions was additional hardware support,plus additional hardware sensitivity. Windows 9xx is so hung up on its owndrivers that it will choke on any hardware it doesn't have a driver for. MS-DOSand Windows 3xx will run on computers where W9xx versions will crash after thebooting sequence! But with Windows XP, Microsoft has really gone and done it.Even apart from idiocies like online registration: it has made itself completelyunusable. The new version has absolutely no advantage, and since we're notallowed to use old Microsoft products, there's no option but giving MicrosoftWindows (I never needed its Office Suite anyway) the heave-ho.

As if Microsoft is going to stay out of my purse so easily.

I did say Windows 3.11 came preinstalled on my computer. That is to say:MS-DOS 6.20 and Windows 3.11 were installed. Since the computer's price includedMS-DOS and Windows, I was also given the installation disks - of DOS 6.0 andWindows 3.1. The files for the disks I needed were in directories DISK1, DISK2etc. on the harddisk. I was supposed to provide the disks myself and copy thefiles to them. Those disks have corrupted from time to time but, I always hadbackups and have now burned disk images to CD. Just putting files on harddisk isnot only bad service towards the customer but can cause trouble when thecustomer has to produce the original disks as proof that they were legallypurchased - but at the time I was naive and thought this was normal. Just asnaive customers these days think it is normal to get a computer withpreinstalled OEM-version Windows and no windows CD, but only a Recovery CD or,even worse, only a Recovery partition. But I'm running ahead.

As said, that computer was bought as a package. The next computers I didn'tbuy, but assembled from separate parts. That's one way of starting with a cleandrive. I then install, from disks, CD or whatever the OSes that I want to run onthem; at any rate (MS-)DOS. I started using Windows 3xx long after everyone elsedid and was still using it when everyone was using W95. My first W95installation, with gritted teeth and having already acquired a deep hatred ofMicrosoft, was a pirated version. This was after Gates' complaint aboutpirated W95 CDs in Russia (which reminded me of multimillionaire Michael Jacksoncomplaining that his records were being pirated, and made me wonder if theRussians felt they were selling their soul as I was to even touch this filth). Iwas very glad of this later, for two reasons: i. this is how I came by thenecessary system files to make a boot CD for someone with laptop troubles, andii. I avoided being ripped off by Microsoft. This W95 was so buggy that justusing its own Explorer made it crash. I had to install a file manager program,ironic as I was only using the stupid W95 because of software that needed W95installed. Subsequent hardware configurations, especially added USB ports,stressed W95 beyond usefulness and it was time for an update. I bought theWindows Millennium update and wondered how it would do over a buggy, not tomention pirated older version.

It did fine, because it is NOT AN UPDATE.

It is a full version that only checks whether you've installed an olderversion before. If you haven't, or you have and wiped it because you want aclean install, it refuses to install. You will have to buy the "full version"for three times as much money.

I call that a dirty trick.

To add more insult, if you install it like an update over an existingc:\windows, old files don't get cleared away but stay to clutter the disk. Oldsettings are taken over, but this is not necessarily better than letting WME doits own hardware detection. And it's not as if you can revert to your oldWindows. The cleanest install is by moving the old c:\Windows to another diskand having its presence detected, but not installing over it. Fortunately, Iinstall all OSes to different partitions and could afford to wipe the firstruined WME installation and start over. And all this because the box says"update". Oh well, when I bought a Japanese W98 "update" to run Japanese games,I was prepared.

But that's not why I felt quite OK with pirating W95 - other than the disgustat using the product, that is. By this time I had already felt the pressure onconsumers to Buy Windows Buy Windows Buy Windows, and heard of the pressure onsellers to offer no alternatives. MS-DOS was no longer being updated to dealwith larger drives, and instead of a standard DOS partition I was including astandard Linux partition on every machine. Linux distributions are generallysold separately, quite rarely as a bundle with the computer, always includingthe distro on a separate medium to install on as many computers as the buyerlikes. The average PC was sold with Windows, sometimes with a Windows CD,sometimes not. This Windows version was not the property of the person who hadbought the computer with unasked-for pre-installed Windows; the user had a rightto use Windows under the terms of some licence, which included not installing iton another computer. So if the old computer dies, tough, you have to buy a newcomp plus permission to use a new Windows. Isn't it amazing that peopleprefer a pirated copy? Of course an honest person will refuse the licence andsimply scrub Windows off the drive and get a refund.

Yes, if you don't want your preinstalled MS Windows, you tell Microsoft andthey will refund the price of the OS, which was included in the price of thecomputer.


Some people tried this, just to test Microsoft's honesty. I don't knowwhether they succeeded, but Microsoft certainly wasn't helpful! Suddenly, it wasthe dealer's responsibility to deal with these requests! Ahem, just before Gateshad to appear in court over monopolist practices - and the text disappeared offthe web after that - there was an online appeal to computer dealers to "Sellyour customer a solution, not a problem". In other words, to sell no cleancomputers, only preinstalled ones. Because all consumers are stupid and needtheir Windows installed for them, or else will install an illegal copy ofWindows. How come illegal copy? Because they can only get a legal copy ofWindows by buying a whole computer with that copy included, and must not installthat included copy on a second computer even if that second computer is theirown property. So if they don't get Windows with their computer, they will neverget their computer to run (by legal means, anyway).

Given this construction, I'd say selling the PC with Windows isselling the customer a problem.

And that's without counting Windows' bad reputation for bugs and crashing, orunreliable availability ("No, we don't sell that old version any more and no,you may not get replacements elsewhere"). But this text, which completelyomitted any mention of alternative OSes - let sleeping dogs lie - ended in"Otherwise, who knows what you might leave the customers - and yourself - opento?". In other words, computer sellers can be accused of piracy even for sellinga computer with no Windows on it. With the meaning of the word "piracy" sodistorted, I feel like going to the nearest lawyer's office and asking: "Uh, ifI made a copy of someone else's CD of copyrighted material, would that qualifyas piracy?".

This lawyer's office, if located in the Netherlands, would certainly be ableto assure me that Microsoft's activities are illegal. Consider this: Microsoftforces the computer-buying consumer to also buy an OS, offering to refund if theOS is unwanted, yet not doing so. Dingg! This OS is in the computer and possiblyon a CD in a sealed package marked "by opening this seal you agree to theconditions of the End User Licence Agreement (EULA)". To read any paper copy ofthis agreement the buyer has to break the seal. OK, start the computer directly:"Windows is configuring your system. ... Do you agree to the EULA?" Press No,and the computer closes down. User is forced to agree to something without beingable to read it first and/or because otherwise the hardware won't work. Dinggdingg!! The EULA says that you do not own the software you just bought,therefore can't install and use it as you please in your own private home andcan't sell it to anyone else. By the Dutch law of commerce which states that anyagreement between buyer and seller has to be a reasonable one, this is about aslegally binding as the sale of a living person's kidneys behind that person'sback. Dingg dingg dingg!! And I'll pass over the legality of intimidatingshopkeepers into selling something, and then making them responsible for therefund. So if Microsoft's lawyers turned up at my door to accuse me of illegalactivities, I'd cross my arms and say: "Do tell."

It is my belief that Microsoft was and is being legally persecuted for allthe wrong reasons. At the moment, a Dutch political has-been now making a livingas high-ranking European Union member is pressuring Microsoft to publicize itsformats. Nonsense. By all means let Microsoft's formats remain closed. MicrosoftWord is a notoriously buggy, bloated monster - remarkable how software aimed atstupid users can be so unnecessarily complicated - and if it won't work withinterchangeable formats, it will be ditched all the sooner. And no, Bill Gatesshould not be ordered to give away free copies of Windows to educationalinstitutions, or separate Internet Explorer from Windows (the inclusion ofInterBloat Explorer is such a good argument not to use Windows!). He shouldrefund all those consumers who have simply wiped this software they paid forbecause they know they won't get their money back. He should be sued formillions in the traditional hysterical US style for emotional damage bythe dealers he intimidated. And, here's a good one: he should be officiallyordered to cancel the obligatory online registration.

That's Microsoft's latest strategy to make people pay for something theydon't really want: online registration within 30 days, or the comp closes downafter the expiration date. I remember a time before everyone was always obligedto be connected and online; when you had your hardware, your software, maybe abit of configuring; done. How would consumers react if they bought something ata shop and were told: "Here you go, have fun with your toy, bring it back to uswithin 30 days so we can push a button on it, or it stops working"? Supposedly,this online registration is to prevent abuse of the registration key. Withoffline registration, you can use the same key as often as you like. With onlineregistration, a central database can say: "hey, that key has already been used".This can go wrong and has gone wrong; people who have bought the game "The Sims"and any of its expansions may find that the key they enter to get access to theSims site is "already used". No it's not. Something went wrong with theirdatabase. Fortunately the game can still be installed, it just means the usercan't access the site for updates. As for me, I got in on the reg.key of anotherexpansion pack I'd bought. Microsoft is slightly worse; its databases are stillas shaky as online databases always will be, and it collects data about theuser's computer to uniquely identify it and link it to the reg.key. Change thegraphics card, and you have a new computer and are now illegally using Windows!In fact, change nothing at all and run into a registration procedure burp, andyou are an evil pirate who must die! One user reported in a forum how takenaback he was at these messages suddenly filling his screen when he was justtrying to register his copy like Microsoft tells him to.

Of course Microsoft respects your privacy and would never abuse all this datait collects on your computer. Just as Microsoft will refund your copy of Windowsif you didn't want it. And if that sounds bad, Microsoft was one of thesupporters of "Trusted Computing"; have a Big Brother chip in the computer thatconstantly watches for virus attacks (and if the software is legal, and whetherthe user has installed Linux, BeOS or other undesirables). Fortunately, fewconsumers are that stupid, and the initiative fell through.

No, I've never registered online. I've put two old comps together from partsand bought some hand-me-downs. The one that came with Windows XP on it brokedown almost a year ago and I can't be bothered to fix it. And that while theversion was probably pirated and hacked, harr-harr. Not that it mattered,the vile OS was trashed as soon as possible.

This was not so easy on the laptop I bought at a slight discount, with an AMDprocessor (no Intel, boo hiss) and well, no Windows would have been nice but youcan't have it all. This laptop came with a recovery partition. After muchrestarting and fiddling about, for which I was obliged to "agree" with the EULA,I'd made the three CDs that the system will produce as "recovery CDs", the firstof which was a boot CD. This CD came in handy, as wiping the existing partitionsand installing Linux and Windows ME was much harder than I thought; for somereason, the drive would only boot from this CD. Finally, I got it to behave andI am now happy with my XP-free laptop, despite various unrecognized bits ofhardware because Microsoft not only has this deal with hardware manufacturers toonly make Windows drivers, but also to only make drivers for new Windowsversions, and Millennium is old. But I can live with that. And Linux isstill being developed, so who knows, in time...

The second laptop I bought, an AMD Turion (Windows Vista, no Windows CD)would not even boot from a Linux bootable CD. I assumed the CD was not bootable.So I booted to Windows, "agreed" to the EULA ("You'll be wiped in a moment, mypretty") and started the procedure for making a recovery CD. I was asked for 2DVDs.

Or 10 CDs, that was fine too.

After gasping "What kind of an insane OS is this..." I bought a pack of DVDs,made the recovery DVDs and turned out to have no need for them, as after thecomplete erasing of all partitions with Windows contents, the Linux bootable CDwas suddenly bootable and installed Linux with no problems. Almost no problems.There was an unforeseen limit on the number of partitions. Okay, just a few bigpartitions and virtual machines on them to run the old OSes in, as not evenMS-DOS can deal with two processors. At the moment installation is on hold, asthe laptop has a serious hardware issue (Do Not Buy HP Compaq Notebooks). Butuhm... Damn user-friendly stuff, this Linux. Beats the shit out of Windows XP.

I think I have by now gotten the point across that selling the customerWindows is selling the customer a potential problem. Windows should not beincluded on a PC pretending to be a free bit of extra service or an integralpart of the machine like the Mac OS or an indispensable piece of software. Itshould come separately in a box with a note attached: "This is Windows. ARE YOUSURE YOU WANT THIS?". Installing Windows should be offered as a paid extra, likea bigger monitor or harddisk, so that the consumer can see how mich he/she ispaying for it. An extra option might be: delete junk after install. You will notbelieve how much advertising junk the Japanese version (or all languageversions?) of W98 installs. On WME, the first thing I did was run System RestoreRemover. Windows may seem user-friendly because it's so pre-configured, and it'sfun playing about with the themes, but anyone who tries to make in-depthconfiguration adjustments will have to resort to third-party hacking tools - andthis for an OS that contains its own (mediocre) internetting, websurfing,word-processing, sound-recording, movie-making etc. software. Putting in somehacking tools would make the shell more user-friendly, but what would stupidusers do with them? What, indeed? Later Windows versions hide system files bydefault and smile to the user that any damage to the system can be effortlesslyrestored with the System Restore function - the user needn't know how thisworks, or how much disk space it costs. Microsoft commercials similarly singthat hackers and virus writers are threatened with extinction due to Windows'robust system (IT specialists would agree that this is a dangerous commercial,it could make a person die from laughter) and if you've got a virus on thesystem, you can just go on working, the new Windows can handle it. Especiallygiven the growing number of computer users who are online all day, I blanch atthe thought of dumb innocents happily continuing work, more and more of theirfiles getting infected by some worm or virus and maybe having some keyloggertransmit information to a spying cracker, because uncle Bill tells them it'sgonna be OK. Microsoft hides its files and blindfolds its users and hopes therewill be no collisions. Microsoft makes sure that certain OSes will either notrun Windows, or not boot. (C'mon, why did that Linux CD not boot whileVista was installed?) Microsoft knows what's on your computer. Microsoftowns your computer. Or at least your OS.

Did I say that selling the customer Windows is selling the customer apotential problem? Selling the customer Windows is like selling the customer avirus. Yes, the virus can be cleaned off; either way, Microsoft has thecustomer's money.

Oppressive (step)parents who blackmail their children with starvation willnot be happy to see those children fed by someone else. The name "Linux" hasbeen mentioned a number of times. What is Linux? Before the famous court case(that bled uncle Bill but otherwise hasn't had much effect) Microsoft would havetold the inquirer: "a cancer in society". Yes, Linux is a cancerous tumour,infecting people all around. It is an open source OS, meaning, anyone can lookat the source code to see how it works. It is free, meaning freely distributable- depending how one gets by it, one does pay for it - and can be installed onany number of computers and used by any number of people. The only real end useragreement is that the user will keep this software open. A pleasant extra isthat the Linux end user agreement - the GNU licence, to be more exact - does notcontain this horrid small print about being forbidden for un-American countriesand peoples; because Linux is not a glorious product of America like Windows (orMac, which has the same horrid print) but a collaborative effort initiated by acertain Linus Torvalds from Finland. As the name "Linux" suggests, this OS -originally just a kernel, the rest of what makes up "Linux" is really separateopen source projects - is Unix-like, so stability is and has always beenimportant. User-friendliness has not, and it's only in the past few decades thatLinux distributions have been working on their GUI - making them "Windowsripoffs". But since Linux was built for and by users who know what they'redoing, it's also highly configurable. Networking is hot these days, which is whythe newest no-longer-DOS-shell is a dolled-up server OS; Linux was built fornetworking from the start. It doesn't rely on retailers and can't be crushed offthe market. And growing numbers of children are crossing the street to the freefood bar and sticking out their tongue at papa Bill: "Who needs yourmuck." Yes, Linux is a cancer in society.

Microsoft has made an effort to impress this on its flock. Do not stray toLinux, it is Evil and Buggy and Will Not Work. (Pot and kettle? In fact, Linux'sbiggest problem is hardware manufacturers refusing to release specificationsneeded to write drivers.) When terrorism was the buzzword, open source was heldmore, er, conducive to terrorism because anyone could read the source code anddiscover its weaknesses. (And correct them. As opposed to Windows weaknesses.)And, um, what then? Scriptkiddies for the Revolution? Next offensive: LinusTorvalds was a fraud, he hadn't really discovered Linux.

The Christian equivalent of this accusation would be: Adam was a fraud, hedidn't really write the Bible.


Once again, Microsoft clearly believes that everyone is as stupid as itstarget audience. "Linux" is the kernel, on the one hand, and many applicationsthat run on this kernel, on the other. Linus Torvalds oversees the developmentof the kernel, which is his baby. But even the kernel code is not all written byhim, and he never pretended it was. He certainly didn't "discover" this kernellying under a compost heap, or floating in a lake. By the way, he admits thatthe discovery of Linux was not made by him, but by Santa Claus. Finland justhappened to be conveniently near. No one shoots at Santa Claus, so now Microsofthas changed tack and is being very friendly and open-sourcey. The new policy iscalled "Extend and Embrace", or, as tiredly cynical computer users say: "Extend,Embrace and Extinguish". Still believing that people are all stupid, Microsofttries to kill open source through infiltration, just as it tried to kill Java (amultiplatform programming environment, eek!) by sneaking Microsoft-only codeinto it; just as it created DotNet ("one platform, all languages") to lureprogrammers of various languages away from other platfoms; just as Bill Gatesand his dear wife did some charity action in India to snare cheap programminglabour and promote Windows over Linux, which understandably is quite popular inpoor countries. Given Microsoft's habit of sticking a slimy tentacle in everyopening, might not Microsoft be called a cancer in society? And a very malignantone at that?

Oh wait, I forgot one. Poster campaign for the acceptance of the newMicrosoft Office Suite (forgot the version; connected with Windows XP): onlyDinosaurs can't adapt themselves to our dynamic, fast-paced software. So, ifyou're sitting there wondering in bewilderment where all the familiar bars andbuttons went, ask yourself: are You a Dinosaur? With some nice Jurassic monstersin the background. The sheer, jaw-dropping arrogance of it. If Microsoft hadtaken this tack before it dominated the software market, there would be noMicrosoft today.

(Update 2008: while surfing about Minix, I hit on the story, in severalinstallments, of Linus' supposed fraud, from the viewpoint of a professorTanenbaum, who had found himself involved by the Microsoft-funded smear campaign: Some Notes on the "Who wrote Linux" Kerfuffle, Release 1.5. It shames the guilty partiesright down into the ground, and I viciously hope it stays up forever.)

To get back to that anniversary article, what do we really owe Microsoft.

The success of the PC? Quite frankly, not even the existence of the PC. Itssuccess came from being cheap and customizable. Which Linux also is, and Windowsisn't.

The success of Windows? Not even the success of a graphical interface per se.In fact, Windows would not be hated as much as it is if it hadn't been forMicrosoft. No, I don't hate the DOS-Windowses, I'm just very unhappy with them.The NT-Windowses are crappy over-GUI'd Unix wannabes, which I do hate, but Iwouldn't stop anyone from using them; variety is the spice of life. AlthoughMicrosoft does not like that little word "variety". Indirectly, Microsoft iswhat made Linux so popular: "Thank God, It's Not Windows!"

A happy computing experience? How about: anger, frustration, humiliation,paranoia, the feeling of being had? Annoyance over all the software that"requires Windows to run", especially when it doesn't really? A sense of guiltat using the system marketed by a company with as much dignity and integrity asthe gutter press?

Ah, but if Microsoft hadn't invented the PC operating system we all usetoday, the PC would never have caught on! Wrong on both counts: Microsoft didnot invent MS-DOS, but bought it, developed it, programmed a shell around it andmade it appear that the shell was the OS. The PC was a roaring success beforethe Windows shell, and there were and are alternatives. Microsoft might neverhave existed, and the computer world would be none the worse for it.

The user-friendly Windows shell made the computer accessible to all layers ofthe population? "User-friendly" depends on what one is used to, early adoptersof both Windows and other GUIs spent a lot of time figuring them out. As forMicrosoft's patronizing marketing approach, yes, the company did attract a lotof fools who think CD drives are cupholders, click on attachments and givespammers a reason to continue spamming. Helpdesk personnel love them. But canall layers of the population afford a new computer every few years because theOS bloats up with each version?

I feel I owe Microsoft exactly nothing. I feel Microsoft owes me two refunds,several millions for the emotional anguish brought about by itsmind-numbingly stupid attempts at deception, and replacements for the CDs andDVDs I wasted for "Recovery" media just so I could scrub its latest Windowsversions off the harddisks.