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Elephant Memory

Week of July 2, 2000

Elephants supposedly have great memories. It's hard to tell. You have to get to know them a long time before they let you inside.

Human beings have pretty good memories too, but now and then they need a little prodding. They're more easily distracted.

Elephants don't watch commercials all day long, in fact surprisingly few even watch TV. And they don't get to see many billboards or bus ads either, because so few of them ever pass a drivers test.

Elephants are fortunate enough to lead relatively calm lives without the millions of implosions happening to human beings all the time as they wander down that information highway. Elephants tend to stay away from highways, preferring the relative sanity and tranquility of Mother Nature's green wild.

Elephants don't see Bill Gates on TV, and they deny knowing who he is, but that's a lie, as any elephant who trusts you well enough will tell you. Most human beings know who Bill Gates is, and what Microsoft is, and most have both heard of and run Microsoft Windows by now. And when the few who don't know who he is see him on TV complaining about how that mean government is being so cruel to him and stopping all his innovations for the benefit of all the other human beings on this planet, and they walk out their doors and ask of their neighbors, 'who is this Bill Gates? what is Microsoft? what is Windows?', their neighbors will tell them, and the odds are they won't use flattering phrases either.

Once upon a time human beings walked out their doors and asked of their neighbors, 'what is this Watergate', and their neighbors told them. And maybe these human beings don't remember that anymore, but the elephants sure do. The elephants remember what it was like to run MS-DOS right out of the box on the original PC.

The elephants remember when it was 'open season' on that box, uncharted territory waiting for the pioneers to venture in. They remember when there was only hardware and no architecture, only BIOS and no standard, and when 640KB was not only good enough for anybody, but far more than most anybody had.

The elephants remember how brokerage houses across the surface of our planet bought up these PC boxes by the thousands and put them to good use, and they know that what was being done with them then is not unlike what is being done today.

The elephants remember how RAM went through the roof in 1995, when the greatest event in computing since the PC box itself was supposed to run fine on the boxes of the day but didn't, and how everyone knew it. They remember how people scrambled to upgrade just to see the emperor in his new clothes. Elephants remember things like that.

They also remember how NT was supposed to gobble up 16MB of RAM but didn't, doing nicely with 4MB less if it had to. They especially remember this, as it was the one time in history that the real minimum requirements for anything were lower than Microsoft's fairy tales.

It's still too soon for even human beings to forget that Windows 95, Windows 98 and Windows NT can still run on only 16MB RAM, and some of the cleverer human beings and most every elephant knows that with as little as 32MB you have a powerful tool at your disposal, and that if you switch to Linux you have even more. They all know that. Maybe the human beings will soon forget, but the elephants won't.

When the elephants look at what's happening today and see how the old 'just throw more hardware at it' attitude is still used in Redmond to compensate for poor programming and as a tip of the hat to the chip and disk makers, they remember. They've seen it all before, perhaps it wasn't as drastic and obscene as this time around, but it's all happened before. And they wonder if they will ever see it again. They wonder if the human beings will ever learn their lesson.

And as the human beings gather in their cars to drive away for a long weekend, along highways with billboards attacking them with the message that Windows 2000 is safe and stable, as they sit glued to their TV sets and watch commercial after commercial about how poor Bill is being dismembered by merciless people and all the innovations everyone needs are about to stop, the elephants watch idly by, in complete silence.

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