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Get Off The Road Net

Week of July 27, 2001

Serious Internet surfers are up in arms against the wanton irresponsibility of Microsoft and users of its software.

Mark Minasi argues in his excellent book The Software Conspiracy that computers should be more like household appliances. Guarantees should exist. Companies should stand for what they promise, and they should promise something. And as the owner of a washing machine can obviously sell said washing machine as a used item at a later date, so should the owners of software be able to do.

All very well and good. But as Dennis E. Powell has pointed out in his recent diatribe against all things Microsoft, computers are not really household appliances at all, nor will they ever be. They're more like automobiles.

And what is the difference? You never put a washing machine in traffic, so if you screw up with your washing machine you are most likely not going to hurt others. You use automobiles in traffic all the time. A computer not connected to the Internet can indeed be a household appliance, but a computer connected to the Internet is in traffic.

Being in traffic demands responsibility, which is why potential users of automobiles are required to take drivers tests to ensure they can handle their vehicles safely both for their own and for other drivers' benefits.

A computer user connected to the Internet is in traffic, has the potential to harm both himself and others, yet no test is required. While Mark Minasi's argument mostly deals with the reliability of software, the temptation to classify software as an appliance rather than a traffic vehicle completely frees the user from all responsibility. And today we see what that lack of responsibility can lead to.

Powell says outright that computer users running Microsoft software cannot be taken seriously and should be kept off the Internet, and he is right.

Subject: the outlook express macro virus you just sent me
Date: Tue, 24 Jul 2001 01:15:37 -0400
From: dep <dep@drippingwithirony.com>
To: [name i'm withholding]

i just received a windows macro virus from you, with the subject 'stikbikeboy.' it probably has one of your private files attached to it; i do not know and do not plan to dissect it to find out. but you have probably also sent it to others in your windows addressbook as well, or others whose email addresses somehow appear somewhere on your computer.

please either change operating systems to something secure, undertake to secure your windows machine, or disconnect your machine from the internet.

thank you.

Opting for software such as Microsoft's is no crime per se, but not knowing better while connecting to the Internet is. And pleading ignorance does not get one off the hook - on the contrary.

The vehicles themselves must pass regular safety inspections as well, and no vehicle coming out of the Microsoft plant could ever have a hope of passing such a safety inspection, what with the track record the corporation already has in this regard.

It is normally fully legal to drive one's vehicle on one's own property, so long as it remains on one's own private property and the lives of others are not jeopardised. And so any dorky computer user is fully within his rights to continue to use Microsoft software - so long as this use does not take him onto public highways.

Outlook Express is a program which can only be used on public highways. As such, its use should be completely forbidden, as should the use of any Microsoft product which comes into contact with the Internet, even indirectly.

The time has come, as Dennis E. Powell said, to start putting our foot down. Microsoft users are creating serious traffic accidents. The cost of the ILOVEYOU worm, exclusively attributable to Microsoft and the use of its products on the Internet, was staggering. No corporation or consumer group would relish being stuck with a class action lawsuit for damages like that.

Dennis E. Powell recommends using his form letter when replying to unlicensed drivers of unsafe vehicles who continue to cause accidents on the Internet. That seems to be a step in the right direction.

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