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April 7, 2000

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Subject:  Solving "The Microsoft Problem"
Author:  Jerry Thomas (TMF Cheeze)

Everything is clear now. The Judge has ruled, everything is decided, and there is nothing left for deliberation except the consideration of appropriate remedies to correct the damage that has been done, and to prevent any future relapse into, should we say, less-than-optimal behavior on the part of Microsoft.

Yeah, yeah, I know there will be appeals. I don't want to hear from appeals. I'm a solutions guy, okay?

Thing is, The Microsoft Problem is a nebulous thing; it's hard to grasp it in its entirety. Study it closely, and soon you discover that it is a whole miasma of separate and distinct problems, each one demanding a separate solution. I don't want to pretend I have all the answers (I do, but let's let that go for now), but at least I can hope that my proposals can prompt some consideration of a long-term resolution.

Problem: Microsoft represents an unpleasant concentration of geekiness.

Let's face it: we all know geeks, they make a positive contribution to society, and some of us (and we all know who you are) might even be geeks. However, while I embrace diversity in all things human, and I applaud the geek lifestyle, I'm afraid I must admit to a certain unease when I'm confronted by too many geeks all at once. In packs, they're scary. I get uncomfortable when there are too many people who are obviously smarter than I am nearby, guys who tell knock-knock jokes with the word "cosecant" in the punches, guys who walk around humming in logarithms. It's creepy, frankly, and most of all, I just don't want to be the dumb guy in the room. And neither does society as a whole. It's just too intimidating.

Geeks are like a special sort of human being, sort of the way uranium is a special sort of element. It's okay to have it around in small amounts, but if you get too much of it in one place you're asking for trouble. And Bill Gates and his gang in Redmond are like U-235, the geekiest, nastiest sort of uranium that they make atom bombs out of. If you get too much of that stuff in one place, you get a chain reaction, and the whole thing starts to melt down, and then you're in really big trouble.

The solution, of course, is to insert some inert matter into the critical mass, material that in radioactively neutral. Once the control rods, so to speak, are inserted into the fissionable material, the reaction is halted, and things are safe again. Therefore, it is clear that we need to mix the geek population at Microsoft with some decidedly ungeeky people, people who are the least geeky you can find, people who are technologically inert, people who don't use cell phones or design semiconductors or develop information technology solutions for today's dynamic business environment.

I mean, of course, Amish people.

The Solution: Judge Jackson should order Microsoft to hire one Amish employee for every six geeks. The presence of these non-technical people in the geeky Microsoft milieu should temper and ease the dangers of overly-concentrated geek-related meltdown.

Problem: Bill Gates has personality "issues."

You know it, whether you want to admit it or not: Bill Gates is nobody's first choice for a square dance partner or swimming buddy. He's not your obvious pick for a three-day drunken road trip to Tijuana. Frankly, he is far more satisfying as a combatant in an episode of "Celebrity Deathmatch" than as someone you'd like to share a popsicle with. The problem is not really anybody's fault. It's simply that the complex of his general behavioral patters is too closely controlled by Gates himself. There isn't enough outside influence guiding his interpersonal habits. This leads to a lack of poise in the patterns of his social activity, and in the comprehensive interface between Bill Gates and the complex world in which he is fated to dwell. He's ornery, aggressive, antisocial -- traits that would be extremely attractive in your average Costco Security Guard, but not for the richest guy in the Solar System. This has led to no end of trouble between Microsoft and the world at large.

The Solution: Open source Bill Gates's DNA code.

Judge Jackson should, by now, understand that we have the technology. We can rebuild Bill Gates -- make him better than before. By opening up Gates's DNA for wide independent development, we can expect a cooperative evolution of his personal functionality and a more pleasant overall design to emerge in time. After all, kludgy is as kludgy does, and once the source of that kludginess is divorced from command of the product, a more graceful user experience is all but certain.

Problem: Microsoft deliberately booby-traps its software in order to render the products of competitors useless.

This is one of the main anti-competitive practices that Microsoft has been charged with over the course of the ongoing litigation. An independent company develops a software tool, and whammo -- Softie whips out its own version of the product, gives it away for free, and integrates it so thoroughly into its operating system that a competing product cannot be loaded in its place without a pair of ice tongs and a Master's Degree in phrenology. This renders the independent software useless and tends to drive the companies that produce it into oblivion.

The Solution: Spin off that part of Microsoft that is in charge of inserting bugs into the software.

The new firm, to be known as It's a Feature, Inc. (Nazdaq: OOPS), can find a lucrative technological niche crafting impressive new on-screen error messages and implementing cutting-edge system failure innovations.

Problem: Microsoft is too big and has too much money.

Here we have a problem which writes its own solution. Microsoft, at last measure, has something like $18 billion in cash sitting in its enviable coffers. By sheer coincidence, it also happens to have about 18,000 rank-and-file employees. Right there you have the makings of 18,000 start-up companies, each with one million dollars in seed money.

The Solution: Split up Microsoft not into two or three hulking behemoths, but into thousands upon thousands of nimble, eager dotcoms and tiny software development shops. Sure, a lot of them will go out of business in the first 18 months, but you never know -- one of them could be the next Microsoft!

Problem: Microsoft is predatory and anticompetitive.

Solution: Remove Bill Gates from his current position at the company and instead give him a job that is more suited to his temperament: Head Coach and General Manager of the New York Yankees.

[In between pot shots on the boards, Jerry Thomas (TMF Cheeze) also writes Notes From a Fool]

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