Microsoft Mania

Ironically, the lines that are missing from the Stones’ ‘Start Me
Up’ television ad for Windows 95 may be the ones that most aptly
describe the much-hyped release of Microsoft’s updated,
user-friendly operating system. Microsoft’s massive ad campaign
very well might make ‘a dead man come’ — into stores, that is,
clamoring for boxes of fresh software and free pizza. As Stephanie
Syman notes in Feed (August 1995), the ads bank on
the suburban, ’50s values (man in the office, woman in the kitchen)
Microsoft evidently associates with home PC users. Whether or not
Windows consumers actually reflect this retrogressive image, some
critics say they’ll be left crying before the jingle fades from
popular memory.

First, there are the privacy issues to consider. According to
Ralph Nader, Windows 95’s online ‘Registration Wizard’ gives
Microsoft an unfair advantage over competitors and threatens the
privacy of its users. In July 1995, Nader fired off a letter to
President Clinton, claiming that the Wizard scans a user’s hard
disk, dials up Microsoft and downloads information to Microsoft
about the files on the user’s hard disk. (The letter was also
distributed on the Taxpayer Assets Project list serve Although
registration is voluntary, Nader believes that consumers who are
intimated by the technology will give Microsoft the information for
fear that their software might not function properly otherwise.

Next up on the gripe list are critics’ claims that Windows 95
won’t be around long enough for consumers to get their money’s
worth. According to Leo Laporte, an industry analyst and radio talk
show host, Bill Gates’ near-term strategy is ‘to squeeze as much
upgrade money out of current Windows users as he can.’ But his
long-term plan, warns Laporte, is to move us all off Windows 95
onto Cairo, Microsoft’s next generation operating system. Trade
publications like Computerworld revealed the strategy months
ago, when they reported that MS compelled software vendors to make
their programs compatible with both Windows 95 and Windows NT
(Cairo’s baby brother) if they wanted to use the Windows 95 ‘seal
of approval’ on their packaging.

Obviously this does not bode well for millions of consumers who
will upgrade to 95 only to realize that in just a couple of years
they’ll need more memory and a faster processor to operate Windows
NT. Because most PCs are not nearly powerful enough to run NT, it
seems likely that Microsoft introduced 95 as a stepping stone to
Cairo, which drops the DOS format completely.

Finally, when it comes to Windows 95, it seems that ‘new and
improved’ makes for higher costs but does not necessarily mean
better quality. Some critics say Microsoft’s market dominance has
made it a lazy software developer that depends more on
hyper-marketing than good software engineering. ‘Microsoft trades
quality for quantity and gets away with it,’ Syman says, ‘and its
publicity’s corny, middle-of-the-road tone is no accident. A more
sophisticated pitch might demand better software. ‘

Original to Utne Reader Online, September

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