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Watership Down

Week of January 24, 2002

There has been a lot of speculation about whether the recently leaked memo from Billg was an authentic leak of a genuine document or just another typical PR stunt. Not that it really matters of course - the last time anyone could count on Microsoft for anything is so far in the past as to be totally irrelevant today.

It could be a PR stunt: MS is very aware that previous internal memos - notably from Brian Valentine - have made their way surreptitiously to The Register. MS might be just capitalising on this mishap.

Or it could be an authentic document: Billg's words could have been meant for internal eyes only, and really represent what he is thinking, and what Microsoft is going to set about doing.

Microsoft has reached a fork in the road they had not foreseen. Corporations are for the first time looking at alternatives to Microsoft products in a more than casual way. The numbers people are starting to wake up to the fact that Microsoft is bleeding them systematically and that they stand to gain considerable bucks - and lose innumerable unwanted headaches - by abandoning ship.

Home users have also had it. As Thomas Greene points out in his recent history of the world:

It was XP product activation that broke the camel's back. I'd put up with steadily deteriorating software and my steadily deteriorating control over it, all right; but the idea that I should have to buy a separate copy of their rubbish OS for each machine I have made me want to vomit.

The migration to Unix-based systems is happening. Linux is winning market share on the desktop. OEone of Quebec has just released a totally dedicated Internet machine for the facile price of $799. It doesn't even whisper the word 'Microsoft'. Two of the curators of this site are currently investigating OS X, one from the user's perspective, the other from the developer's.

But the leaked Billg document is still news. It's covered at all the major online outlets. After all, news is news, even if no one is interested. And as news it may deserve attention, but in such case it should invite scrutiny as well.

For Billg's new agenda to succeed, the following would have to happen.

  • Stop all product roll-outs immediately. Stop the spread of 'owned' machines.
  • Postpone the .NET roll-out (perhaps indefinitely). Fix the bugs and holes first.
  • Take windowsupdate.microsoft.com offline. Prevent further problems with the installed base.
  • Give disinterested third party programmers full unfettered access to Microsoft source code. Real people must be able to evaluate the code for security issues.
  • Fix all bugs and holes in Windows 95/98/98SE/ME/NT/2K/XP immediately. People have been forced to upgrade just to get a secure operating system when they paid for a secure operating system in the first place.

And this would be completely rhetorical were it not for all the news articles about Billg's document, for no one expects, even in their wildest dreams, that any of the above could have even a remote chance of happening. Microsoft is not a 'good guy' and we all know that by now.

But it's moot, for even if this pipe dream were to become real, even if Billg and his company could win back the minds of their customers, they would still have to win back their hearts - and that is an impossible task.

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