Fleecing The Microsoft Flock

I was in a CompUSA. Over in a tiny dark corner was a small poster with Amelia Earhart smiling at me, and the words, "Think Different," below her. As I headed for Amelia, past the Compaq and HP PCs, I ran into a large man wearing a huge T-shirt with a strangely colored flag/window logo on it. Below the logo were the words, "Think Like Us."

The large man threw out his hand and told me his name was Bill, and asked me if Iid seen Windows XP yet. I hadnit and told him so. He slapped his big arms around my shoulders and lead me to an HP PC, grabs the mouse, and proceeds to show me the wonders of XP. As he spoke his eyes glazed over, and he spoke as if he were reciting a Tibetan mantra. I was entranced. I wanted to walk away, but I could not. My feet refuse to take orders from my brain. Soon, however, I didnit want to leave. I was transfixed by the beauty of XP. Big beautiful icons, everything was easy to understand, so intuitive. I reached into my wallet and bought the HP PC with XP installed and toke it home.

My wife looked at me curiously. "A PC, Vern?"

Iid lost my voice, so I nodded my reply. She smiled and shook her head, then left me to my new toy. I set the PC up and powered it on. XP appeared after a moment and I played like a child possessed.

Several hours later I got up to go to the bathroom and relieve myself. I glanced at my reflection in the mirror over the sink and was stopped cold. Where my scalp is normally shaved I saw a dense crop of short, curly, white hair. My face, which is normally a milk chocolate brown, was a charcoal black, and I had a snout. The pupils of my eyes had elongated. My fingertips were dark and as hard as hooves. I ripped open my shirt, more white hair covering my chest and stomach. I felt something in the seat of my pants. I dropped trou and turned around. I had a tail!! I opened my strange mouth to scream, I had to scream, but the only sound that gurgled up from my throat was a long, mournfully plaintive, "BAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!"

Then I awoke.

Happy Halloween!

I like taking pot shots at Microsoft, partly because they deserve it, and partly because so many people just accept what the Redmond giant tells them as gospel. Not that Microsoft makes bad products, I happen to think the some of the stuff they produce is not entirely horrible, especially the stuff that comes out of their Mac Unit. But poking fun at Microsoft is a pastime Iive come to enjoy. I also like taking pot shots at Windows users, the sheep of the computer world. For the longest time they seemed content to graze on whatever Microsoft put before them. Never mind if it was inferior, bloated, or just didnit work, it was from Microsoft and that was good enough for them.

Something has changed, however, in the mannerism of the Microsoft sheep. Thereis a new sound in the wind, a sound that is replacing the placid bleating of the Microsoft wooly minion. I started hearing it when Windows 2000 was released. I heard more when Windows ME came out. It started as a low rumble, almost inaudible. The sound grew and grew. Now it is almost a deafening roar. It is the sound of discontent. The sheep are mad as hell, and theyire not going to take it anymore!

And what are the Microsoft minions upset about? What has all those wooly knickers in so many knots? XP, of course. Oh, itis for sure youill find glowing reviews and commentaries about how cool, fast, stable, and utterly beautiful XP is, but what youill also find mixed in even the most positive comments are snipes at the Redmond Giant, and for good reason. XP, while better than its predecessor in many ways, leaves a lot to complain about.

We Mac users are no strangers to complaining about our OS, computer, and company of choice. We balked when we first saw the Dock, booed the defunct Apple icon in the center of an OS X screen, hissed when we learned that CD burning wouldnit be available at the initial release of OS X, and were ready to fetch a rope when Steve Jobs said that the OS X.I upgrade would be free, as long as we paid US$19.95 to get it. Largely, our complaints have been met with a positive response from Apple, which makes us feel like we are not just customers, but are part of the process in making the Mac great. That may have been Appleis intent all along, to include at least some of its customers in the final phase of OS X development. Where else can you find so many qualified testers willing to work for peanuts?

Microsoft, on the other hand, seems to think that it knows best what its customers want and need. Heck, theyive said so on several occasions. So imagine the surprise in the executive offices at Redmond when the first grumblings about XP came in. And now that XP is out of the box, so to speak, imagine how amazed Microsoft execs are after reading so many lukewarm reviews, many telling would be customers to only bother with XP if they are really unhappy with their current Windows installation, and that perhaps they should just wait until they need a new computer rather than spending the money to upgrade now. Those execs have to be scratching their collective noggins and wondering just where, in the name of Gates, did they go wrong?

Itis not too hard to see why the sheep are revolting. XP is indeed pretty, and it does have a lot of nice features, some of which might even make a dyed in the wool (sorry) Mac user, like myself, look over the fence once or twice. For instance, XPis desktop can be easily changed by the user, something Mac users have wanted but never got. XP has a capability which lets others control your desktop, handy when helping Aunt Sally set up her new printer when sheis at home in Modesto and you live in Bangor. XP also lets you have more control over the hardware. Mac users have a tough time, for instance, manually setting Ethernet connect speeds. XP users can do this without too much of a hassle. (This can be important when setting up a wired network.) And Microsoft offers an add-on pack that is chock full of little goodies for an additional $40. But that is part of the reason for the revolt. Microsoft is forcing XP users to pay for many of the features Mac users take for granted.

Ripping CDs is one of the biggest blunders Microsoft makes, something that anyone with a Mac that can run iTunes takes for granted. XP users will find that they can listen to and manipulate MP3 files, but they canit rip new ones from their own CDs, or make MP3 compatible CDs without first paying another $10 for the privilege. If they want a full-featured DVD player software, they need to dig in their wallets for another $15 to $50. This is on top of the already hefty $199 price tag for a full home version, or $99 for the upgrade. XP does not include JAVA, something users have to upgrade on their own unless they buy a new PC from a vendor that installed JAVA for them. But the real kicker is that, according to Infoworld, XP is demonstrably slower than Windows 2000, up to 35% slower. Ouch!

(Note: Ravisent Technologies has an offer where you can buy both the DVD playback software and the MP3 ripping and encoding software for $19.95.)

I suppose I shouldnit talk about slow OSs, OS Xis apparent speed was the biggest issue Mac users had before the release of version10.1, and many would say that there is still plenty of room for improvement, but OS X version 10.1 burns all kinds of CDs, is happy with JAVA, is quick, stable, fun, includes lots of free software, and, at most, cost $150 (the original $130 plus $20 to have the upgrade CD mailed). The cost of XP, including the add-ons needed to get functionality equivalent to OS X, can lighten a purse by $220 or more ($120 or more if you qualify for the upgrade).

It makes you wonder what some Mac users really had to complain about. The answer to that, as the Redmond sheep are learning, comes in whether or not someone cares enough to listen.