By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers
If you had a choice of Big Brother or Little Billy, which would you choose?
Do you want the government to dictate what a computer operating system should be like? Or would you rather let Bill Gates and his minions at Microsoft decide?
If you're clever, you'll answer "none of the above." But, clever or not, you probably won't be able to duck the question. Microsoft has no competition—zilch, none, nada, goose egg—in the PC operating-system market. So, for the next few years, your PC is going to be running Windows 3.1, Windows 3.11, Windows 95, Windows 98 or Windows NT unless you're really weird. (And I say that with affection, being a little weird myself.)
I'm serious. The federal government has finally decided to step into the operating-system business. The government, through the Justice Department, wants Microsoft to make big changes in the way Windows works.
This is crazy. A government that orders $800 toilet seats for the Air Force had better keep its hands off my PC. Bureaucrats who have never once understood the phrase "simplified tax code" are the last people on earth I would choose to design any part of my PC's software.
Take note of what really matters here. I don't care what the Justice Department's complaints against Microsoft are. I suppose they are all centered around the assumption that Microsoft is just plain too big. That wasn't a crime the last time I checked, but I'm not a lawyer. What I care about is the fact that the government is trying to force Microsoft to change the way Windows works.
I don't mind that the government of my state says I have to wear a helmet when I ride my motorcycle, or that the feds told Toyota and General Motors and all the other car companies to put exploding bags of air in the cars I drive. That was done for public safety.
I do mind that somebody without a shred of experience in PC operating-system design wants to meddle with Windows. I watched a Justice Department news conference and I can tell you that these folks could buy all the Windows for Dummies books ever published and still not know how to change file-system properties or how to back up the Registry or even how to write a simple batch file.
That's what matters. If we think Microsoft is bad at getting Windows to work right, imagine what our PCs would be like with the software equivalent of air bags attached to them.
I like to joke about Windows 95 and Windows 98 being the only operating systems which require users to click Start when they want to stop using the computer (when you want to shut the system down). But a U.S. Government Approved version of Windows is such a tasteless joke, such an absurd proposition, that I can easily imagine a Start button with these additional choices besides Shut Down: Send $2 to the Approved Political Party of Your Choice, Automatically Dial the Tax Cheat Hotline to Inform on Your Neighbor, Apply for Pre-selected Seating at a Bill Clinton Town Meeting and Volunteer for the PC Software Registration-Checking Corps.
This is stupid, right? Things must really be slow in Washington this time of year. The press is really falling down on the job. We need more scandals. We need to give those government lawyers something meaningful to do.
If you agree, write to Janet Reno, the attorney general. She's in charge of this charade. And ask her how she'd handle a Windows exception error. And, no, suing Microsoft doesn't count.