~ Archive for September 27, 2003 ~

Let’s Bash Microsoft Today


AtStake’s firing of Dan Geer for his authorship of a report that Microsoft’s worldwide monopoly on desktop software makes it easier for worms to flourish (aside: was the report for Duh magazine?) serves as a useful reminder that ”free speech” is a right only for publications that don’t depend on support from advertisers and for individuals who don’t depend on their employers’ paychecks.

Complaining about Microsoft is about as useful as complaining about an atmosphere that is 80/20 nitrogen/oxygen.  You might not like it but that’s what you get on Earth.  You could escape the ratio and Microsoft’s monopoly by moving to Mars but the trip would be more expensive than the license fee for Windows 2005 or whatever.  A company focussed on medium-term profits would probably not want its workers wasting time complaining about something that isn’t going to change.  (My own lame attempt was to encourage the federal government, which created the monopoly to begin with and sustains it as Microsoft’s largest customer, to switch to open source software.)

So in solidarity with Mr. Geer, let’s fill the comments section with Microsoft hatred.  I’ll start off with the things that I hate about Microsoft, some big and some small…

1) I hate the fact that Windows doesn’t support JPEG2000 files with 16 bits of luminance information per color (instead of the standard 8-bits-per-color old-style .jpg files that always have washed out highlights and no shadow detail).  Some of the fancier digital cameras put out “RAW” files with 10 or 12 bits of scale but they can’t be processed or viewed except with proprietary software that nobody has.  Because Windows doesn’t support this format directly in MSIE and the file explorer, none of the digital camera companies bothers to make cameras that output the new standard.

2) I hate the fact that Microsoft copied Ninetendo and Playstation with Xbox.  For a company with infinite money to sit and say “Here are all these teenagers getting fat sitting on the sofa working their thumbs with Playstation, let’s make an exact copy of the device” is an outrageous parody of what the electronics industry is supposed to be about.  Where are the Microsoft-approved exercise bikes and other fun fat-burning machines that interface to Xbox?  Why can’t you play a Microsoft game with your whole body instead of your thumbs.  (I think some of the Japanese folks, including Sony, are actually moving in this area, but they’re not the ones with infinite cash.)  The most ironic part here is that, after delivering zero innovation to the market, the Microsoft executives fret that they aren’t making a huge profit off Xbox.

3) I hate the fact that the file formats for Microsoft Office aren’t documented.  (It would be nice to see a little tiny bit of competition in desktop software and it will never happen until a public programmer has free and full access to Office file formats so as to build extensions and maybe competitive pieces for components.)

4) I hate the fact that, after all the hype about .NET, the only languages that you can realistically use with .NET are C#, VB, and maybe COBOL.  .NET had the potential to eliminate the language wars that have disgraced computer programming as a profession (nerds calling each other losers for using [Perl, Python, Java, Lisp, whatever] instead of solving a customer problem).  You were supposed to be able to use Language A and invoke methods on classes defined in Language B.  I guess this works for VB and C#.  But the runtime isn’t sophisticated enough to support dynamic languages such as Common Lisp Object System and Microsoft isn’t reaching into its cash pile to pay third-party language vendors to stand behind .NET versions of the really nice computer languages (ML, Haskell, Lisp).

5) I hate the fact that PCs are all so ugly and noisy.  In a market with 1000 vendors you might expect that 995 of the products are cheap, nasty, and ready for the shelves of Walmart but you’d expect at least 5 vendors of products that would cost $250 extra and (a) be cooled with liquid and heat sinks (i.e., be silent), and (b) look reasonably nice in a home setting.  But just as with my posting on why aren’t there a handful of single fathers to go with the single moms, it seems that we end up with a Gaussian distribution, centered on “ass ugly and friggin’ noisy”, with a standard deviation of 3 dB on the noise and 0.05 ass on the aesthetics.  It might seem unreasonable to blame Microsoft for the ugliness of hardware that they don’t, after all, manufacture.  But one of the burdens of monopoly is that people blame you for everything!  (And I bet if Bill Gates said to Michael Dell “would you mind building me a silent not-too-ugly PC” it would happen.)

6) I hate the fact that Windows XP doesn’t tolerate hardware failure or flakiness.  I only see the blue screen of death once every 6 months or so (flakier than Solaris, better than GNU/Linux in my experience) but WinXP machines seem to freeze if something isn’t quite right with a PC Card slot, a CD/DVD drive, or whatever.  As long as the CPU is still alive, why can’t it log something and then tell me “you really need to check the cabling on Disk F:”?

7) I hated the iPaq PocketPC for the month that I had it and for the 15 minutes of function that it provided between overnight battery charges.

8) I hate the fact that capable people who want to build end-user oriented software basically have no alternative but to work at Microsoft.  Among big companies in a sprawling suburb where it rains all year, Microsoft might not be that bad, but not every capable person will thrive in such an environment.

Okay, that’s all the vitriol that I can summon, typing as I am on a Microsoft Natural Keyboard using a Microsoft any-texture optical mouse (invented in Redmond in 2000; copied by Tom Knight at Symbolics in 1984) in MSIE on XP…  To keep this focussed, I’m going to delete any comments that aren’t on-topic.  It is okay to say “I hate MSFT because they don’t have Feature X from the Macintosh” but a comment that is primarily about the Macintosh or Unix will be liquidated.

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