Windows, Windows Everywhere
I'm sending you this e-mail from 2021--40 years after IBM
released its first personal computer--in a last attempt to prevent the mistakes
in computer development that put civilization in jeopardy.
Not everything is awful. Some things are just, well, weird.
For instance, Apple Computer continues to do well, but not for its stockholders. The company gained
tax-exempt status as a religion in 2015. Authorities were convinced the
designation was appropriate after many users took to flagellating themselves in
public when Steve Jobs failed to make any significant new-product announcements
at Macworld in Boston. Apple evangelists have become common in shopping malls
and airports. The cult tends to attract very nice people, and they've managed to
integrate into society quite well. The rest of us simply avoid talking about
technology around them lest we get flooded with irate e-mail.
Bill Gates has been barricaded for the last two years in a vast subterranean bunker, along
with a core group of true believers from the old Microsoft Corp.
Gates and his minions literally went underground in 2019 after the Supreme Court ruled
against the company for the 1,249th time in the antitrust case that began in
Authorities gave up trying to extract them after concluding that
cracking open the bunker might hurt the people inside, who technically weren't
criminals because they'd never actually been charged.
philanthropic groups tried to "deprogram" followers of the man who once headed
Microsoft and entice them out of the bunker. But the would-be rescuers were
usually met with derisive laughter. The Microserfs said they'd only emerge from
their shelter if the humanitarians correctly answered three riddles.
group, having craftily recruited a team of Linux programmers, was able to pass
the test. But those inside insisted that the Linux folks must have cheated and
thereafter refused to respond to any more entreaties from the
The only reason we know they're still alive down there is the
frequent issuing of news releases, such as the one yesterday declaring that
Microsoft takes security very seriously. In recent weeks, the releases have
sometimes taken on a more plaintive tone, offering bug fixes for Windows Uber
Grande users in exchange for a case of Malomars.
But the problem relating
to the licensing system Microsoft established remains.
Some years ago,
the company stopped selling software outright and instead set up a
subscription-based system. Users paid a fee, just like the cable bill and got to
use a Microsoft operating system or Microsoft software, like the Office
As a result, when Microsoft decided to issue an upgrade, we all
upgraded pretty much simultaneously because the company eventually would cut off
access to the older software. It wasn't too long before everybody, everywhere,
was running exactly the same thing.
This had some great advantages.
Computers got a lot simpler and more reliable because they didn't have to be
quite as flexible. Things such as technical support and interoperability issues
largely disappeared. All our appliances pretty much run on a stripped-down
version of the Microsoft operating system, everything from the microwave oven to
The problem is, because everything runs the same
operating system--even my electric shaver--once somebody discovers a security
flaw, it can bring down our computers. All the computers. All over the
In some places, the power is on for only a couple of hours a day
now. It's not safe to drive because the traffic lights can't be trusted.
Torch-bearing mobs occasionally break into the homes of known technologists and
. . . well, let's just say we're starting to run low on people who can fix
We're on the brink of disaster, akin to the great corn blight of
2012. Then, all commercially planted corn had been made genetically identical,
which produced spectacular yields. But when a new disease infected a crop in a
small field in Iowa, it ripped through all the corn around the world because
none of the plants had any resistance to the blight. God, what I wouldn't give
to taste Frosted Flakes again.