Monday, November 29, 2004

The U.S. As Microsoft

Note: This is an old post from a weblog that lasted about 3 posts back in 2001, called "TIX3". In the interest of keeping all my online ramblings in one place, I'm going to move it here. As Arlo Guthrie says in Alice's Restaurant, while disposing of some garbage: "at the bottom of the cliff there was another pile of garbage. And we decided that one big pile was better than two little piles, and rather than bring that one up we decided to throw ours down." Anyway, here it is; sometime soon I'll comment on it's current applicability & shit. - Ed.

The following is from Dave Winer's Scripting News (

Most interesting idea heard today, from Lee Thé at Fawcette. Even though Americans were victims on Tuesday, as soon as we get over the initial shock and pain, let's find out what we're doing wrong, and fix it. The US is the Microsoft of the world. We look to the left and right and see good people and don't understand that there's something wrong at the top. That's what the rest of the world has to deal with. It does matter who leads us. When we vote we don't use our power.

That's it. That's the statement that captures how I feel. It's easy, fun and politically correct to demonize Microsoft. They're bastards, after all. However, it is a company of 45,000 people - they can't all be evil incarnate. The way the organization behaves is reprehensible, but that certainly wouldn't justify beating the crap out of every random Microsoftie that you run into. Ask yourself how much control you have over your company's business decisions, be they brilliant or brain-dead; in my case the answer is easy: none.

And it's easy to say "well, if those 45,000 people had any integrity, if they're not evil incarnate, then they shouldn't work there!" But as someone who has seriously weighed the costs and benefits of leaving a company in which one has no pride, I know it's not that simple. The people that work there are just like you, and they have lives: they have spouses, little babies, kids in college, mortgages. They're comfortable. They probably love the daily work they do, whether or not they're happy about the company's leadership.

So the analogy is: there's lots of people in the world that hate the U.S. the same way. And some small number of them, like the terrorists who attacked us Tuesday, do think we're all evil incarnate. And they hate us enough to translate that into action.

What if there were an analogous attack on Microsoft? Not a terrorist attack with explosions and crumpled buildings and dead bodies, but an "in-kind" attack. Say someone hacks their XP licensing system so that everyone could get it for free and not get caught. How would you feel? I know how I'd feel: I'd cheer! Stick it to them! Ha-ha! The jerks deserved it!

Now imagine a Microsoft response; call it "Response A". They prosecute a bunch of people under the DMCA and send them to jail for a long long time. They crack down on piracy with an iron fist, giving no quarter, resulting in fines, penalties, and possibly more jailtime for more people. They start using whatever patents they hold to crush even more competition. And, they lobby successfully for some legislation that protects them from similar "attacks" in the future, never minding (in fact probably trampling) user rights and developer options. Their position as martyrs, as victims, gives them more power than ever.

Would you hate them less? Of course not - you'd hate them more! You'd cheer even louder the next time someone successfully "attacked" them in some other clever and crippling way.

But imagine a "Response B". They track down and prosecute those responsible for the "attack" (of course they do, it's only fair, even I can't imagine a response where they didn't). But then, suppose they're enlightened enough to consider the bigger picture, the one that includes thousands of people like me who hate them. Suppose they change some of the ways they do business. Suppose they back down from their "win every goddamn time at all costs" philosophy. They're still trying to be successful, of course, we all are, they're just not abusing their dominance to do it.

And that's the point. That's what I want my country to do. Yes, yes, track down and punish the motherfuckers who attacked us, and increase security to prevent it from happening again. But even more importantly, we should change how we act as a member of the global community. We should still try to be successful, of course, but we should stop abusing our dominance to do it.

Sept. 14, 2001

P.S. This analogy is good. I believe in it. But it depresses me, because I can't really imagine Microsoft changing their nature enough to even consider a "Response B" in the scenario above. So, scaling up to the other side of the analogy of the U.S. as the Microsoft of the world, I don't see how my country will be able to either. Certainly not soon enough.


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