Not Living Up To Your XPotential

by Wayne M. Krakau - Chicago Computer Guide, January, 2002
Here is my somewhat simplistic take on the current state of Microsoft, as embodied by Windows XP. Let's start with some analogies.

For dog and cat owners, it's like finally getting your pet to stop leaving "presents" on the carpet, but still having to put up with your dog chewing up your shoes or your cat using your furniture as scratching posts.

For fish owners, it like finally getting favorite fish to stop eating its aquarium neighbors, only to realize that your favorite is getting noticeably bigger while none of the other fish seem to be having offspring, in spite of the fact that they frequently look pregnant.

For parents, it as if you finally got word from the teacher that your child has stopped beating up the other children (or at least learned to do it quietly enough so that the teachers don't notice it), but that "Little Billy (a randomly chosen, relatively common first name, of course) isn't living up to his potential." (Of course, parents do have the advantage over pet owners in knowing that their children, unlike animals, will eventually be vulnerable to common logical arguments. According to my informal poll of parents, that will occur when a child is about 35 years old - if you are lucky.)

It is at this time that I am tempted to suggest that somebody should give Mr. Gates a good, sharp rap on the snout with a rolled-up newspaper (something which I would not do to an animal or a child). He runs a company with more money than a lot of small and even medium-sized nations, and, due to lack of will more than anything else, declines to produce anywhere near the quality of software that his company has the potential of creating.

He does take incredible glee, however, in yanking around the public, the government, and especially, any potential competition. While I do have a lot of understanding of at least some reasonable level of wanting to screw up the competition, and perhaps even getting the better (legally!) of the odd government agency, I don't have much empathy for his "let the public be damned" attitude.

Who hasn't encountered individuals who, for reasons you cannot fathom, if given the opportunity to make $100 either by normal, ethical means, or by means that included lying and cheating, would choose the lying and cheating method? This decision would hold, even if the lying and cheating method took more work and entailed more risk.

One would suspect that Mr. Gates, and the people he has gathered around him, suffer, at least to some extent, from that same personality flaw. Success for these people just isn't enough if they can't somehow get away with skirting the rules at the same time.

I hold that, during the last few years, at any point since Microsoft first achieved some level of market dominance, it could have changed its strategy to that of creating the absolute best, most reliable, most secure, and most cost effective products, while marketing and distributing them in an aggressive, but totally ethical way, and made not one dime less than it has made using its existing strategy. The problem is, that would take the fun out of things. How can you feel superior if you can't feel that you have somehow gotten away with something that lesser beings can't? (The late Mayor Washington's remark about hubris comes to mind.)

As one of those "lesser beings" who has a silly habit of following the rules, I am not exactly unprejudiced in these matters. I have lost uncounted thousands of dollars (and the occasional client) while trying to overcome deficiencies in Microsoft products that I have either sold, or, by laying hands on a PC already loaded with Microsoft products, assumed responsibility for. I would love to wholeheartedly, and without reservation, recommend Microsoft's products.

As it is, Microsoft has been making progress, though, as in the analogies above, has not quite gotten its act together. To really beat these analogies to death, let's say that it has moved from producing Yugos up to making something in the Kia or Hyundai range (ignoring recent ownership changes), depending upon the product under discussion. The problem is that they are using their market position to force prices into the Lexus range, while competitors are selling products that have both quality and prices of a Honda or a Toyota.

Just for review, you may remember that I worked on, but, on ethical grounds, declined to sell any Microsoft Server product prior to Windows 2000, though I did sell all the various versions of their workstation operating systems. Windows XP has turned out to be as reliable as Windows 2000, which means it is not as reliable as it could be, but at least it is a perfectly viable product upon which to base your business.

It has, however, turned out to be an average of about 20% slower than 2000, at least based on the independent test results that I have seen. Given that the one annoying decrease in performance between NT4 and Windows 2000 was in network throughput (how much data it could shove through one or more network cards), that additional drop in performance could really hurt your server. Given that I've been installing multiple 4-port 100 megabit network cards in servers for years, and that Gigabit Ethernet is becoming more common, this is not a trend I am happy to see.

Of course, the overall drop doesn't exactly help workstations, either, but CPU speeds are rising and memory prices are dropping so fast that you might not notice on a new machine. If, however, you upgrade an existing Windows 2000 workstation to Windows XP, be prepared to see a lot more of the ever-popular hourglass.

As to security, just what the hell is going on here? If you know that your product is going to be the most popular one to hack, why make a point of spending proportionately less time and money on security issues than any of your competitors? Making outrageously untrue statements to the public regarding security doesn't really help either.

Let's see, now. Why again, did Microsoft add a feature to XP to allow Windows to lie about its IP address, so as to make denial of service attacks and other related problems almost completely untraceable? Oh, yes, it's because system administrators of Microsoft-based networks demanded it! Yeah, right - and I'm sure there are police officers handing out free guns and bulletproof vests to kids because school administrators demanded it.

Ah, it's so sad to see that little Billy is not living up to his potential. Perhaps a military school could straighten him out (ala, The Sopranos).

©2002, Wayne M. Krakau