The Lite Side

If Cars Were Like Operating Systems

What if cars were designed like XP, OS X, and Linux?

- 2002.03.04

You've undoubtedly read those hoary old comparisons between driving a car and using various computer operating systems. We here at the Lite Side hate to see an old joke go to waste, so we're connecting the jumper cable terminals to the neck joint of humor one more time.

If your car was built by a computer company....

If your car is an XP model...

You can put the steering wheel on the roof and the gearshift on the hood if you want, and sooner or later you try it just to see what it's like. You find that it's painful, and no one else will drive your car. Eventually you go back to a normal configuration.

You can buy parts for it at Walmart, but somehow they never fit quite right, or you have to go buy a part that Walmart doesn't carry to make the part you originally bought fit.

Every third time you park it somewhere besides home and work, it will fail to start until you call AAA.

In order to keep it from running out of gas, you buy a bigger tank, but that takes more gas to haul around, so you buy a still bigger tank....

If you give a stranded motorist a jump, both of your cars will cease to work.

If you don't drive it for a month or so, the internal electronics reset and you have to tow it to a dealer to get it to run again.

Your CD player interferes with your left turn signal. Every time you turn left, the CD player switches to track one. It's not a big problem, and you can work around it, but no one knows why it happens. Everything you do to fix it makes it worse.

If you let your buddy borrow your handicapped parking sign, his car will not run with the sign hanging from his rearview mirror. If he throws the sign outside the car, then his car will run again. Furthermore, when he is in possession of your parking sign, your car won't run either.

Every time you go to Mega-Lo Mart, you can't find your car again, because it looks like every other car in the lot.

Touching the door makes it automatically open, with or without a key. It does this at odd and embarrassing times - usually when you are showing it off to other people and bragging on how secure it is.

The warning light panel has 438 different symbols and requires a written manual (which was not included in the purchase) to interpret properly.

The only place you can store your key is in a box on the hood marked "NOTICE: PUT KEY HERE."

Gangs of pre-teenagers will use the hood key to take over your car (whether you're in it or not) and drive around causing random traffic jams. When the jam is good and solid, they get out, but they always leave your car a little worse for the wear. Sometimes they take the engine.

Whenever you consider trying to get another car, a policeman shows up at your door and reminds you that no other kind of car is allowed on the access ramp to the freeway. You're welcome to use alternative cars anywhere else, though.

If your car is an OS X model....

The day after you buy it, an improved model comes out for less than you paid, and the thing which is improved - a turbocharger for the engine - will not function in your car, even if bought separately.

It only comes in one color, although you know people who own older colored ones, and you can customize it only with difficulty. People who customize it complain that it's not customizable enough.

Most of the time it's an automatic, but when you drive places you used to frequent years ago, it turns into a standard. Unfortunately that list includes your house.

It has no gearshift and is fully automatic unless you are driving someplace you've been many times, whereupon a gearshift suddenly appears. When you want to go in reverse, a special lever which is hidden under the dashboard must be flipped. Then the car rotates in place using special hinged axles. The special lever is difficult to find and requires you to stretch just a little more than is comfortable to reach it. Most of the time you avoid parking anywhere you have to back out.

When you go to the showroom to buy one, people give you bottled water and swap stories for hours on end, but no one ever actually asks if you are ready to buy one.

When people see it go by on the street, they say, "Hey, isn't that one of those new..." and the person with them says, "Yeah, they look great, but I wouldn't buy one unless I won the lottery."

They use it to teach Driver's Ed. This is somewhat controversial, as everyone knows the skills used to drive one car are not transferable to another car.

If the engine is not running, you cannot open the hood. If the engine is running, the hood automatically opens whenever an oil change is needed and you are at a gas station.

The engine parts are sealed inside a translucent and quite thick hood. Opening the hood will automatically void your warranty. It will also leave scratches all over your car. If you do manage to open the hood, you discover to your surprise that there is a powerful, fuel efficient, lean engine in there, and you have not been taking full advantage of its power.

The first time you clean it vigorously you will notice that you left tiny scratches all over the finish, just big enough that wax doesn't cover them up. Your wife will not like this.

Sometimes you can't make it fit onto the onramps at freeways. Even though it is illegal for you to drive on the freeway on ramps, you can get by with it if you hang a colored flag on your antenna.

When you and an XP driver and a Linux driver leave from the same place for a restaurant across town, the Linux driver arrives first but is arrested for driving on the wrong side of the road. You arrive second having found a shortcut which takes only two turns. The XP driver arrives last but declares that this is not the right restaurant and makes everyone drive to a new place.

It has only one pedal. When you push it down, it accelerates. When you pull it up, it brakes. This feels unnatural to you and prevents you from doing doughnuts in the parking lot, so you go buy another pedal and install it yourself.

Some part, somewhere, will become loose and fall off. This part will not interfere with the operation of the car, but you will constantly have to explain this to people who think your car is defective. The part might be a door to the gas cap, the cover on the dome light, one of the hubcaps, or the plastic cover on the glove compartment's drink holder.

Despite the obvious attention to detail, there will be some fundamental design flaw - and only one - which afflicts all the owners of this type of car. It may be that the rearview mirror is mounted in front of the driver's seat, or that the seat can tilt but not slide forward and back, or one headlight burns out two days after the warranty ceases to cover it, or it may require metric tools to open the drink carriers. It won't be a serious problem; you can work around it, but you hate it when other people notice it.

The car is designed not to require maintenance; there are no maintenance facilities anywhere near where you live; but when the day finally comes when you can't afford to wait any longer, maintenance will no longer be offered for your model.

If your car is a Linux model....

You built it yourself out of discarded scrap from the junkyard, yet it outruns anything on the road. Some part on it somewhere is held in place with a rubber band.

No one else can drive it because it takes too long to explain the procedure on how to make it go.

It has four gear shift levers.

There is always some fundamental part not attached to it, awaiting a vendor to provide it, such as the trunk lid, the back seat, the tachometer, or the radio.

It has no air conditioning. You know of people who have installed air conditioning themselves, but you haven't gotten around to learning how to do that yet.

Your car only runs really really well on the freeway. It can go 120 mph and get 300 mpg while doing it. When going slower than 45 mph in a residential area, it often sputters and dies, refuses to change gears, or won't fit in parking spaces. Many fine restaurants will not allow your car in the parking lot.

Sometimes the gas you buy works well, other times it chokes the engine. You become very conscious of the availability of gas in the exact formulation that works best. You have a notebook with dozens of pages of notes on the subject.

The engine you bought was free and runs great. The steering wheel and gearshift cost you money, though, and they suck. You bought them on credit and haven't paid for them yet.

Even though there is no user's manual, you have cobbled one together from various books. It is 1,200 pages long and some of it is in Dutch.

There are eight places this car is preprogrammed to drive itself. Amazingly, this works reliably, and you use it when you can. Unfortunately only three of them are places you actually want to go - but you go to the other places just because you can.

There is one place where everyone who drives your type of car goes to meet. When there, it is difficult to get a word in edgewise because everyone knows more than you - or at least they think they do. When drivers of other cars wander in by accident, you steal their hubcaps and tell them what fools they are.

You are an expert on XP type cars and often pull over to help one which has suddenly died due to a missed registration key.

In a conversation with XP and OS X car owners, you invariably come off as the one person who actually has a clue about how a car operates.

You live under the misguided concept that everyone will want to build their own car someday.

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