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The Millennium Bug Revisited

Week of February 23, 2000

First published in the RISKS Digest.

Y2K is here and on a roll: things went better than expected; Clinton's administration is declaring a total victory. The real Millennium Bug - Windows 2000 - has had much worse luck. Further, it is now apparent that there are two such bugs: the operating system itself, and the hype campaign now introduced to get us all to once again jump on the merry bandwagon of planned obsolescence and upgrade to it.

None other than Paul Thurrott of Windows NT Magazine has declared, after admitting that a lot of Win2K, such as tooltips that not only 'display' as before, but now 'roll in' and 'roll out', is 'fluff' and no more, that these supposed enhancements are 'good for the end user'. It remains a mystery, however, to both the adept and many more, how a rolling tooltip can be regarded as a substantial end user improvement.

Sanity. Keeping a level mind. Let's remember that the shortest distance between two points in this case, the distance between what a user wants and what the operating system does to the hardware, has not increased by one iota. File operations are still file operations (encryption on disk an option and not a requirement); video RAM updates are identical; everything in fact is the same. There is no reason whatsoever for any of these basic operating system functions to require more hardware - CPU speed, disk space, RAM - to work. There is no reason for the operating system to exhibit the extreme sluggishness it does.

'When things get too slow, we just throw more hardware at it.' This, the 'Rule of Redmond', obvious everywhere in Redmond code, is especially prevalent in the code of Windows 2000. And while it is an affront to our collective human intelligence to expect to be able to sell us on the assumption that the same operations which ran so fast on previous versions can suddenly run so agonizingly slow with even twice or four times the processing power on this one, it is not without our collective human imagination to understand - or even predict - why and how this 'fluff' - this _junk_ - can have that effect.

When things deteriorate to the point where a major Internet authority slips into saying that rolling tooltips make matters better for an end user, then we know we have been hit - by the second of the lethal Millennium bugs.

Windows 2000 has not at all received the welcome Redmond would want. Long before its release the Microsoft Windows 2000 Redeployment Program fell completely apart. ISVs and OEMs and major corporations everywhere, after seeing the frightening wave of the future with the betas, decided to jump ship. Polls conducted as recently as days before the official release of Windows 2000 indicate most of these same corporations naturally have no inclination whatsoever to upgrade to Win2K and even less inclination to take it into consideration when writing new software. So Microsoft has been hard put. And, to make matters worse for them, a Finn has entered their arena, becoming a nemesis that they fear more than we can ever really appreciate. Microsoft is not making inroads in the net server market, and this must hit them hard too, as do relations with the DOJ in Washington. So under the circumstances, watching Microsoft do its little propaganda dance, and now do it a bit more openly and a bit more brazenly than in the past, makes an interesting study indeed.

Maybe we didn't really notice last time around - if you reckon the inception of Windows 95 as 'last time' - the kind of hype we do today. Maybe it was there and we just didn't notice it. But today, most likely because of the circumstances, it seems to stand out more:

  • We're told that this is the best product Microsoft has ever released (there's a noticeable echo on this one: we've heard it before, and been gravely disappointed before too - what else can we expect them to say).
  • We hear things like 'we really love this product'. Over and over again. The power of suggestion, of repeating the 'big lie', has become a weapon in the Redmond camp.
  • We're told Win2K runs faster than both 95 and NT 4 on the kind of hardware running 95 and NT 4 today, when we've all seen that the contrary is true.
  • Supposedly independent computer science authorities are heard to mumble incredible things such as those mentioned above. (Another gem came about in the wake of the rumour that Win2K has over 60,000 bugs: suddenly these 'authorities' are claiming that none of these bugs will ever be noticeable by end users).

We know that not all these dupes are on the Microsoft payroll. We don't assume, to paraphrase Lyndon B Johnson, that Microsoft has everyone's CPU in their pocket. But we do see that the cult of mania begun by Microsoft with the release of Windows 2000 is spreading, and that many individuals who normally consider themselves sane and level headed are unwittingly acting as dupes of the International Microsoft Conspiracy of planned obsolescence.

This seems somewhat borne out by the fact that Microsoft even attempted to keep good old NT 4 away from ISVs involved in their development network (MSDN). It is borne out by the fact that several key NT applications (such as File Manager) have been deliberately sabotaged by the Win2K team. And further evidence of Microsoft's desperation might be upon us before this letter is even sent.

Let's get this absolutely straight: no one 'needs' Win2K. There is nothing inherent in Win2K that we have been desperately longing for. No advocate of Win2K can come with a long and impressive list of enhancements that have been conspicuous in their absence from Windows NT. All we really know is that Microsoft has decided, as so often in the past, that it is time again for their 'out with the old and in with the new' marketing coup. Even Intel's claims that Win2K is horrendously slow, so slow that they themselves need to invest in new hardware for $50 million, must be taken with a grain of salt. There is no way Microsoft will ever tell us the truth: they were not going to admit that Windows 95 was a RAM hog and needed four times the CPU speed and RAM as its predecessor, and they are not going to admit that Windows 2000 doubles even that multiplication figure. No, they are going to let us figure this all out by ourselves: the more processors they can help Intel and others sell the better. Look at Michael Dell: in one breath he fells a comment about Windows 2000 which sends Microsoft stock plummeting; in the next he tells of his decision to run his web site with it.

So there's a second bug here all right, almost more dangerous than the first and a lot more contagious. And there are no known vaccination serums available.

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