If Microsoft Were A Pizza Parlour

Saturday, January 7, 2012 at 8:36 pm

This is a rant that has been over 20 years in the making. By and large, I’m a quiet lad; I keep to myself. But, things are coming to a head, so here it is (and I pray to God I don’t get sued for expressing my opinions):

If Microsoft were a pizza delivery place, it would go something like this:

1. You see an ad for a delicious pizza. It looks real good. Price is reasonable. You decide to give ’em a ring and order a deluxe pie.

2. The person answering the phone sounds young, hip, enthusiastic. Your order is quickly taken, and the anticipation starts to build.

3. The pizza arrives after 29 minutes of the promised 30-minute delivery time. So far so good. But you open the box, and….

4. The pizza is raw. Uncooked. What’s more, many of the toppings you expected aren’t there. Angry, you phone them up…

5. “Please hold for tech support. For increased priority, you can sign up for the Gold package…”

6. Finally, you get someone on the line. They explain that they won’t be able to deliver a baked pizza until third quarter 2016, and if you want the rest of your toppings, you can have a handful delivered each week for a monthly subscription fee of just $10 ($100 if you pay for a year up front). Furthermore, by ordering a pizza from them you agreed to a binding contract full of long legal words you don’t understand.

7. Disgusted, you hang up the phone and put the pizza in the oven yourself. It turns out like crap. You don’t have one of those brick-fired pizza ovens that pizza places have, and half the toppings are missing.

8. You eat, but you don’t eat well. You feel distinctly unsatisfied and more than a little screwed over.

9. Next week, you try to order a pizza from somewhere else — screw those clowns after last week! — only to find there is no one else. Microsoft, in the middle of the night, has gone around town and burned all the rival pizza places down, captured the managers, and held their families for ransom; their chestnuts to the fire, etc.

10. You’re left with a choice of A) Willingly get screwed over B) Make the pizza yourself (Linux). Obviously, you pick B.

11. Annoyed that you’ve chosen B) over A), Microsoft buys out the Pepperoni manufacturer (Office Software), and the dairy that makes the Mozzarella (Video Games). “Can I get half a pound of pepperoni and a bag of mozzarella for my pizza?” “That’s only available by subscription when you order a Microsoft Pizza. The cows won’t be milked until third quarter 2016, so you can expect your mozzarella sometime in 2017. Meanwhile, please pay us $10/month.”

12. Microsoft takes all the money they’ve strongarmed people out of, and uses it to corner the Pizza industry in the next town over.

Microsoft has never been a very good company, just a powerful one. Their is general strategy is to bullhorn their way into newer, fertile markets while bankrolling the effort off the tolls they exact from markets they’ve already cornered. Sometimes it takes them years (X-Box) and sometimes they simply give up (Zune). Once they have a market, they hook people into a never-ending stream of “updates,” many of which serve no purpose but to squeeze people that have already paid for their nonsense (Windows, X-Box).

Windows 95 was heralded by Microsoft as revolutionary, amazing, etc. and it certainly looked different. I rather approved of the interface change, actually. It could have been nice. Instead, it was slow, buggy, and…. well, rude. The more interesting bits of the computer got buried in ugly messes. For example: Windows 3.1 used .INI files for most of its internal configuration. The files were unhidden, and plain text. You could go in with a text editor and mess around, if you felt so inclined. You got no help in doing so, but people like me that like this stuff don’t need any. We just enjoy tinkering and exploring.

In stark contrast to the simplicity of .INIs, Windows 95 introduced the registry, a hairy, dark-magic mess that requires a special tool to edit. While I agree that things were becoming too complex to manage with .INI files, Microsoft’s solution simply traded a small problem for a larger one. Then they charged people for it. Then they charged people again to fix the bugs in their flawed design.

It’s not just the poor design decisions — mistakes that some freshman comp sci student would make — it’s the general lack of quality. Windows 95 was buggy and aggravating! It took Microsoft multiple versions of Windows to nail it down. Windows 98, then Windows ME, then Windows 2000, and finally Windows XP. I’ve purchased licenses for all of these, and not once was it by choice. A Dell laptop I bought around 2001 came with Windows ME (which, by most accounts, was actually worse than Win98), and I couldn’t opt out of buying it. The Microsoft Bully Monopoly made sure of that. They also made sure the buggy piece of crap I was forced to pay for was unusable on any other computer. If, for some reason, I wanted to take my copy of Windows ME and use it on my desktop, it wouldn’t let me. The install CD was keyed to the laptop. It was at this point that I started more seriously using Linux, simply because I was starting to get pissed off. Not because Linux is better (we’ll save that argument for another day) but because I resented being pushed around; being treated like cattle.

What’s changed since Windows 95? Not much. When I bought my Thinkpad in 2008 (having had my Dell for about 7 years) I had to buy Vista with it. Six months after I was pressed into buying Vista, Microsoft came knocking again, suggesting I should upgrade to Windows 7. Meanwhile, both Vista and 7 are the same old crap — ship it out the door this quarter; never mind that it’s not actually finished. It takes Microsoft a year or two of “software updates” (internet connection and legal copy required) to actually finish anything they release.

Then there’s the X-Box. I was in college and I saw people with the first X-Box (not 360). They were using them as media servers; storing music and video on them in between playing Halo. Cool! I’d like one, please. I buy a 360. Since I intend to store media on it, I splurge for top model — the 360 Elite — with 120 gigs.

Then it arrives. Right away, I’m presented with disappointment after disappointment. From watching all my friends with the first X-Box in college, I assumed I could copy some MP3s to the X-Box’s hard drive via Windows file sharing (which I have also paid for) and then play music on my TV with pretty visualizations as I cook dinner.

But, the answer is no. Even though I’ve bought their top-of-the-line console, I still don’t own it. The hard drive is dominated by Microsoft, and I can’t put anything on there that Microsoft doesn’t want me to, even though I’ve already paid for the hardware. I can’t copy my own content to the drive. So what do they want me to put on the hard drive? Anything that costs money. Microsoft points, Disney Dollars, or whatever. The hard drive exists purely to hold “licensed” content, which is really more like “leashed” content. Never mind that I want to have a legal mp3 of my friend’s band playing when I cook dinner, because Microsoft can’t make money off of that.

I wound up having to buy 3rd-party hardware to get what I wanted. A little fileserver box with a pair of RAID’d 2TB hard drives stores my media with redundancy. It acts as a “media server” and streams content to the X-Box. It runs Linux. Finally, I can play an MP3 while cooking dinner…. but that giant hard drive I sprung for in the X-Box was a waste. Even then it’s still infuriating — the X-Box has no system for 3rd-party codecs. You can’t play MKVs, along with any number of other formats.

Since that stupid overpriced hard drive is empty and just sitting there, I figure, “Oh, I can copy my games to it and not have to switch discs….”

Nope. Even when you copy the game to the X-Box’s hard drive, it still requires the disc. I still have to go rustle through the shelf and find the disk I want. Why? Because someone could copy the game to a friend’s hard drive, unplug the ethernet, and the friend could play your copy of the game forever. And Microsoft would get no money from them. How terrible.

Halo 3 is the killer app for X-Box, and it’s a pretty good game. But then they pull the same nonsense, recursively. Pay $50 for Halo 3. Pay $50 for Halo ODST. Six months later: NEW MAP PACK! Buy it with Microsoft Points, or you won’t be able to play Halo 3 online anymore, even though you’ve already paid for the game twice, in addition to paying a $10 monthly subscription fee for X-Box live.

$300 for something that fails to deliver on its promises and locks you into contracts, $100 to buy a game twice and still not own it, $5 for new maps every six months, all while eternally paying a $10/month fee for multiplayer. $500 for 3rd-party hardware to actually do what you need to do.

Meanwhile, my roommate Dan subscribes to Netflix. He held a weekly “Anime Night” with a friend a few states away. The X-Box/Netflix combo was actually quite nice at first, aside from the usual piss-poor interface. Dan would crash in bed in front of his TV with a headset, and the anime was synced with his friend many miles away. It struck me as a beautiful way to keep in touch with distant friends. The movie is synchronized on both ends, and you can chat as if you’re on the same couch, thanks to the headset. It’s not quite being in the same room together, but it’s good enough to be almost magic. This is the core of what is beautiful about technology.

Then it was gone. Poof. Stolen. Software update. Microsoft brings you the “Metro”! The update was forcefully applied to Dan’s X-Box. It kicked him off Netflix, and physically removed the Party Watch feature. It didn’t even let them finish the episode they were on. There is no more anime night now. Microsoft blew it to pieces.

Meanwhile, I fire up my own X-Box, apply the update, and see ads everywhere. 3/4 of the screen is advertising some movie I have no interest in seeing, and I have to hunt around to figure out how to play a video. I didn’t even want a new dashboard; the old one did just fine. Is there anything good about this? Let’s see… I read that there’s voice commands now, like Siri. Oh, that sounds nice…… wait, never mind, you have to buy Kinect for that. Kinect costs $100.

Another $100? And then you want me to buy a Microsoft Phone, too? Pardon my french, but fuck you. This is a scam; a pyramid scheme. Mafia/mob tactics. Economic slavery. Whatever you want to call it.

Now I spy Microsoft astroturfing — paying off journalists and manipulating bloggers — to try and build “buzz” about how great the new Windows Phone OS is. The one that just raped our X-Boxes, and took away things we’ve already paid for, over and over and over. Microsoft’s conveniently-owned media outlets like Slate.com pump out puffery saying how delicious a Microsoft Pizza is…….

The Windows Phone OS will be buggy and disappointing, even if it does look nice. Features promised on delivery will remain unfinished for months (did you know copy/paste still doesn’t work?). Then you’ll have to buy a new phone to get features you were promised on your current phone, and never got. You won’t get all of them on your next phone, either, and some stuff you already had will have gone missing.

This goes back to the very beginnings of Microsoft. Microsoft has never actually invented anything; they’re just very good at being a middleman. Remember MS-DOS? It’s what made Microsoft an economic powerhouse. You think they wrote MS-DOS? Wrong. They licensed it!! From the very beginning, their strategy has been to steal something valuable from the population at large, hold it hostage on the top shelf, and then charge access — domination. It’s akin to the feudal landlord that builds a grain silo and offers to store everyone’s grain for free; then turns around and says they own the grain once everyone’s put theirs in the silo.

In Microsoft’s wet-dream future, the X-Box will cost $500, the games $100 for a six-month license (plus $20 every six months for map packs) and then you’ll have to pay $50/month for X-Box live on top of that. Your Microsoft Phone will cost $500 in addition to the $100/month plan. You’ll buy a copy of the latest Microsoft Bieber single for $5 on your phone, then you’ll pay another $5 to buy it on your X-Box, then another $5 to buy it in your car. Then they’ll decide they can squeeze a bit more out of you, and it’ll go up to $10. Don’t like it? Too bad. They’re the only game in town. And next year’s platform will be completely incompatible, meaning your three legally purchased copies of the the Microsoft Bieber single are now worthless.

To this, I say: I like Halo, but it’s far from the most important thing in my life. There comes a point where it won’t be worth the price. Microsoft is very close to that point.

Categories: soapbox, software

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