Just in case you have done what Microsoft
wants you to do, and forget the whole rambling shambles of the
court case brought as a result of Microsoft’s effort to purloin
the web browsing standards and bind them so tightly into Windows
that the world just gives up and lets Microsoft get away with it
again, I’ll remind you that it’s still far from over.
Bill Gates has been giving evidence in court
for the first time since 1998. Strange though it may seem, he only
appeared to give evidence at the end of April, doing his best to
scare American politicians by conjuring up the Armageddon that
would follow for the whole US world domination of the IT business,
if Microsoft was required to behave itself and stopping riding
roughshod over the entire PC industry as it keeps its monopolies
in tact. Bill even suggested that the remedies sought against
Microsoft for its abuse of position would cause loss of revenue
and employees, and send his company's multibillion-dollar research
and development engine "into a 10-year period of
Well, as was once stated in another famous
court case in the UK, “He would say that, wouldn’t he?”
On the lighter side, scanning reports of the case I came
across this priceless piece of Americana on the Computerworld web
The threat to pull Windows "was
a little bit on the outrageous side," said Kevin Shauvin, IS
director at Huntwood Industries Inc., a Spokane, Wash.-based
cabinet maker. But he credited Microsoft with bringing some
standardization to IT. The court has to ensure that this
standardization "is not disturbed," Shauvin said.
My mistake is
obviously I should call the bloke that maintains the PCs at the
local dog’s home for a comment on the burning issues of IT
intrigue. Those of us working in the industry have obviously all
lost the power of objective comment, and it seems that Gates has
indeed won the hearts and minds of the mass of end users. This is
dangerously the same argument that won Mussolini the hearts and
minds of the Italian people when he made the trains run on time;
and the people of Germany who cheered when Hitler sorted out the
perceived problems of the Depression.
This case has always been about means and ends, when
reduced to the specific details, it frequently becomes obtuse and
irrelevant – which suits Microsoft just fine.
We all know
that Microsoft has standardised much about the PC desktop to the
benefit of the users and industry; but what is less obvious to the
cabinet makers and dog’s home is the extent to which Microsoft
has steamrolled competition that could have produced more
reliable, robust software solutions that would enable the return
of competition to all those markets that Microsoft now
Let’s remind ourselves that despite the
common language, Americans regard many things as a natural part of
commercial life that we Brits would shrink away from in horror.
This is exemplified in adware, like the
latest horror from Brilliant Digital Entertainment, which is
bundled with the Kazaa file-swapping program. The 2,644-word
"terms of service" contract suggests that Brilliant
might tap the "unused computing power and storage space"
on victims PCs for its Altnet. Always read the small print.
Altnet is giving you the opportunity to opt
in to making certain parts of your computing power, disk space
and bandwidth available to Altnet business partners.
In my jaundiced view, adware, spyware and
sneakware like Grokster and iMesh are barely legal Trojan viruses
that arrive on PCs through the unwillingness of users to read the
lengthy and obtuse “agree and sign here” messages during
Windows is a virus that you still have to pay for, and still it
installs a browser that tries to sell you more Microsoft
“stuff” from the MSN homepage.
This is all about the evolution of media as
it gropes its way from commercial TV to a whole raft of more
subtle forms of exploiting its basic principle, which is to first
attract eyeballs, and then sell them to advertisers. The nature of
the relationship between PC and user is that the PC can quickly
accumulate log files that create an accurate profile of the
TV advertising can only be very approximately
targeted through the process of scheduling – this means using
both the times of day and the nature of the programme. For
example, if you want to advertise soap powder, then hit the
housewife audience from 9am to 11am and try and catch her thoughts
before she pops down to Tesco. If you want to flog appalling toys
to appalling kids, then you do so on Saturday morning and kids
cartoons. But its all a very blunt instrument compared to the
rapier precision of the PC.
This process is the natural evolution of the
cookie menace; from a relatively small sample of web sites,
it’s possible to draw up a remarkably accurate idea of the
users’ tastes and proclivities.
When I play with XP, I can see the whole
awful panoply of the American way of doing business starting to
ooze from the OS itself. The registration process, those on-line
reminders are obvious evidence that like or not, Bill has my
number. Sure there are probably numerous things I should have read
in more detail when I was installing it, but because the people of
the US are so completely submerged by media that sells stuff, the
whole planet is in danger of becoming some sort of Truman Show,
where we all exist to provide unwitting product placement
way past time to call a halt to all forms of adware and the
surreptitious invasion of personal computers. And as the MS case
proves, unless we kick up a big fuss as soon as possible, the
invasion will be over before we complain.