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At Least It Wasn't 10 December

Week of February 8, 2002
Laggers make their mark by crowning a crook.

Sweden is a boring country. It has the fairest maidens on the planet, the people are absolutely charming, but one must wonder what they do with their time. TV as we know it does not exist - instead they have reruns of reruns of US soaps all day long and halfway into the night. People commute and commute and commute and have no time over for joy and jollies. It's work and home to eat and sleep and back to work and back home every day. It's no wonder most Swedes meet their mates at work - for most of them, there is nothing else.

Long a country sheltered by deliberate isolationism, Sweden has not had the broad selection of consumer products found almost everywhere else. Intentionally stringent import duties have kept all but the most daring international enterprises away. When it comes to laundry detergent, Swedes can have only one. It's either Ariel or Via but not both. When it comes to toothpaste, the same. When it comes to TV, it's a daring two. And when it comes to software, there is and always has been only one company - Microsoft.

'More viewers than Jeopardy', the old billboards for Windows 3.1 used to read. Back then the US game show had only begun to be shown in its Swedish version on one of the new renegade terrestrial non-government owned channels, but it was already a runaway hit with former stand-up comedian Magnus Härenstam asking the answers. Sweden was so stuck on Microsoft that representatives from Redmond told the beta testers and developers that their country had been placed in a very special category by the Beast, and odds were that in the future Sweden would hear of new stuff before most of the rest of the world.

While the world at large has gawked at IIS and Outlook and MSN Messenger, Sweden goes on, in its own quiet way, running all three, oblivious to the dangers around them, convinced they've made the best choice by still clinging to the skirt hems of Mamma Microsoft.

And so it comes as no wonder that yesterday the Royal Institute of Technology awarded an honorary doctorate degree to one of the most notorious criminals ever in the international marketplace - Bill Gates. Here he is, up on charges with the US federal government, and the overwhelming majority of people want to see him strung out and the smooth deal he made with Dubbya ripped up, here he is proclaiming a moratorium on buggy programming just when it's revealed that his .NET technology is 'phoning home' like the most blatant spyware - and the Swedes crown him instead.

And even when Gates could no more than dabble in monopoly abuse, he absolutely excelled at copycat artistry, and yet the ever-awake rector of KTH, the redoubtable Anders Flodström declared Bill indeed worthy of the hat, diploma and ring for 'showing us through his leadership the possibilities inherent in information technology and effecting the dissemination of software to the common man'. Flodström did not elaborate or explain if this 'dissemination' included Windows XP product activation licensing.

To be sure, this is not the Harvard dropout's first honorary degree. It's a bit like the Stikkan Andersson Music Prize - awarded to those up-and-coming greats Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan - truisms at best, painful cliches at worst.

And KTH - Kungliga Tekniska Högskolan - The Royal Institute - is infamous for being hopelessly behind the times. It wasn't until the 90's, for example, that KTH dropped PASCAL as their primary language and went over to C. The real brain trust in Sweden is nowhere near Stockholm. It's in Linköping, home of SAAB and the Wallenberg empire. All this makes up for 7 February.

And finally, the ceremony took place in Berns Strindbergssalen, which is in Berzelii Park and at a comfortable distance from Konserthuset where another well known award ceremony takes place on 10 December.

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