Orphaned Computers & Game Systems

Vol. II, Issue 8    February 1999

On Bashing Microsoft

by Adam Trionfo

I bought a music CD yesterday and listened to it; it sounded great. I listened to it again this morning and, not surprisingly, it was just as good. This afternoon I wanted to listen to it again -- but it would not play! All of my other discs worked fine in the CD player, but not this new one. I contacted the company who made the CD player -- they had no idea why my disc would not work. They suggested that I make sure the CD hadn't been damaged. I didn't think it had been, but I checked anyway. There were no scratches or marks. I brought it to a friend's house and it worked fine there. Strange!

I decided to contact the recording artist's record label. Would you believe it! It turns out that the CD isn't quite compatible with all stereo set-ups! Isn't that amazing? I'm told that I probably need bigger speakers, a larger volume control knob and a brown case (instead of my old black one). I need to upgrade to these things if I plan to continue to listen to this new CD I bought. After being told all of this, I insisted that the CD worked fine yesterday and this morning. They treated me like a fool, insisting that a new stereo was the only possible solution.

Now, wait a minute! Obviously, the preceding story isn't true, although I bet it sounds familiar if you have ever spoken to someone in electronics customer service. Just imagine what it would be like trying to listen to your favorite music if you had to upgrade or purchase a new stereo system every year or so! Or what if your favorite CD crashed for no reason that you had caused? It would be outrageous!

Any music CD that I could purchase would play on any CD player. There would be no need to worry about whether or not the current player is compatible with the new CD. It just doesn't work that way. There is a standard, and the music industry sticks to it. How come computers don't work that way? A music CD is comparable to a single-speed CD-ROM drive. Do you know anyone who would purposely purchase a new single-speed computer drive? But people purchase new single-speed music CD players all the time. A CD player bought tomorrow will play the same disc as one bought in 1984. It is that simple.

Each of us gets irritated by products that we all use, be they microwaves, stereos, TVs or computers. In the last few years, people have been spending more time in front of computers. We talk about them with other people. If some software works well, we say good things about it; if it doesn't work all the time, we complain. It is a natural thing to do. If our hardware doesn't work perfectly, we complain about that as well.

It just so happens that most of the software that people use are products of Microsoft. If we have a hard time with Joe Blow's Plumbing, we are going to bash his company name. So it is with Microsoft. When you use a Microsoft product, it will crash after a while, or at least do something unexpected and unpleasant. We get angry. We fume. We might do a bit of cussing and swearing, either under our breaths or quite loudly. We tell our friends about our computer-software troubles. What we are doing is Microsoft-bashing. It feels great! But there is a problem with this.

In the workplace, I have heard people complain about Windows, Word or (insert your hated Microsoft product here) all the time. This might be due to the loss of part of a document, or maybe a failed download, or perhaps an incomplete or failed installation. These are typical happenings around an office every day. What about those crashes that happen less often but are much worse? How about a new program that changes the Windows registry and causes it to conflict with another program? A Windows machine might not even boot after something like that. I hope you have a registry back-up; otherwise, you are in deep trouble. There are reasons to do a little bit (maybe even a lot) of Microsoft-bashing. It never does any good, though.

Microsoft continues to churn out products that are aimed at the computer novice. There isn't anything wrong with this, really. But there is something the matter with programs that are shipped with bugs that can cause people to lose data. I'm not picking on any specific product, or even only Microsoft. Look at the Coleco ADAM, for example. The word processor that it shipped with in ROM had some of the worst bugs I have ever seen. The keyboard would lock, the screen would get garbled and complete sentences or paragraphs would disappear to the bit bucket. To Coleco's credit, these bugs were ironed out for later ROM releases; but it was too late for the ADAM, and Coleco was dragged down with the only reasonable console-computer upgrade ever made.

How come when a bugged Microsoft product ships, users just shrug their shoulders and wait for the new version that fixes the bugs (and, inevitably, introduces others)? There are alternatives to Microsoft. Even if one must partially remain a Windows user (highly likely), there are equivalent programs to every existing Microsoft product. Some commercial software is worse than the equivalent Microsoft product, some is about equal and some is better. Free Unix clones, like Linux and FreeBSD, are great alternatives for a user who doesn't need Windows (and doesn't mind investing some time and learning a bit about computers).

Take a look around at Microsoft alternatives on the PC platform. You could even jump to a different platform altogether, like an Apple Macintosh. If you don't like what you see elsewhere, Microsoft will still be here -- I promise. But it is important to give other products a try. If, in the end, you enjoy Microsoft products above others, there is a bonus: You can gather in small groups and do some Microsoft-bashing when your OS or program crashes! It might not do any good, but it sure is fun! -- AT