The Rumor Mill

Microsoft World

- 2006.08.14

It's hard to imagine how different things were on the eve of Windows XP. It's hard to believe it was only five years ago that the Web was open to everyone, people freely traded music files (remember MP3s?), and the Net was seen as a cooperative international resource.

The last aspect remains, but even the nature of what we used to call the Internet has changed, just as Microsoft has completely changed the face of computing. And to be completely accurate, the old Internet still exists, peopled by the kind of yahoos who run Linux and Macs, but they're such a small minority that we can effectively ignore them.

We have it good today; it's hard to think that we once considered Microsoft the enemy and joked about Bill Gates. He knew what he had to do and created a better future, a better today.

Just five years ago Microsoft was the laughing stock of the Mac and Linux users. They laughed about the blue screen of death, the malicious worms, the viruses, and the way Windows treated non-MS applications as unwanted cousins. They fully expected the Department of Justice to do something about Microsoft's monopolistic practices. And they still snickered over the "Y2K bug" that was expected to cause untold mayhem at the turn of the millennium.

That never happened, of course, but it was part of Microsoft's strategy. On the one hand, it provided a huge cash infusion as people either bought new Y2K compatible computers or a Y2K ready version of Windows for their older computer. It didn't matter, because either solution put money in Microsoft's pocket.

That was back in the days when people "bought" software and had to worry about paying for upgrades. They were constantly worrying whether their version of Word was compatible with someone else's, something most of us haven't thought about in years. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.

It was the Internet that finally made it possible for Microsoft to grow beyond the individualistic personal computing roots and grow into the power behind the Net. Sure, they already commanded a 90% market share in 2001, but most of that was individual computers connected to networks or to the Net; the kind of integration we take for granted today was almost unknown five years ago.

Windows XP, Passport, and .NET were not just products, they were the visionary direction for the computer industry. They helped drive high bandwidth Internet connections, which allowed for far more ambitious projects. They also formed the foundation for Microsoft Net, the integration of personal computers and personal data with the broader Internet.

Microsoft never could have pulled that off if George Bush hadn't been elected President. The Democrats would have insisted on breaking Microsoft in half, which would have delayed Microsoft Net - it not made it completely impossible. The constant delays allowed Microsoft to release Windows XP in late 2001; that was the last piece necessary to complete their strategy.

Back when we named versions of Windows and called the collection of Microsoft applications Office, Microsoft saw a safer, stronger, more secure future based on their standards. It took some years to build, but once 75% of America had broadband access and was connected to the Net 7x24, Microsoft's auto update hooks gave them the opportunity to quietly fix the operating system on the fly and also insure that the version of Word or Excel (or whatever) you were using was the latest. Sure, they pushed it as a way to eliminate bugs and quickly introduce antivirus patches, but that was just the tip of the iceberg.

Windows XP created the foundation for Microsoft Net (not to be confused with .NET, although they are not completely unrelated). Spam, viruses, and worms peaked in 2001, just as Microsoft had anticipated. Computer generated email about Snow White, the SirCam virus sending random files from your hard drive to random users, and Code Red overwhelming routers and firewalls all around the world - that was just five years ago.

It was the age of anarchy and decadence. There were porn sites, online casinos, unmoderated forums and email lists, pop-under ads, and all sorts of other things that only exist today in the ghetto of the classic Internet. The new networking protocols incorporated in Windows XP allowed Microsoft to use the existing Internet while preparing for a safer, stronger, less decadent network.

Once XP was released, Microsoft convinced most of the major hardware manufacturers to include support for their new protocols in all their new hubs, routers, switches, etc. TCP/IP was the norm, an improved version was bogged down in committee, and Microsoft had the bulk to pull off an end run around the international standards committee. Microsoft Net introduced security, packet scanning, packet locking, packet tracking, and so many other features to Windows users that they hardly noticed it when Windows stopped using TCP/IP on January 1, 2004.

During the transition period, users who had Windows (just Windows - Microsoft no longer saw any need to create version names) saw a decline in spam and a faster Web, at least when they connected to mail and Web servers that ran Windows and supported Microsoft Net.

And that was another clever part of Microsoft's plan, replacing HTML, the lingua franca of the Web, with MSML. They key difference between HTML and MSML is that HTML had been designed for hand coding, so it had to make sense to programmers. By contrast, MSML was like compiled code. Instead of using lengthy multi-character tags like <A HREF> and <BODY>, MSML replaced them with two-byte codes.

Where it had taken a minimum of 7 characters (e.g., <P></P>) to begin and end a piece of HTML, MSML reduced the count to 4 characters. That helped make the Web faster, and Microsoft had a freeware converter that publishers could use to turn their old HTML pages into MSML pages. With 90% of the world using Windows and even most Mac users on Internet Explorer, only Linux users were left out in the cold. For a faster Web, most webmasters considered it worthwhile. Today you'll only find HTML on the classic Internet; it's simply not allowed on Microsoft Net.

By 2003, Microsoft had gobbled up Time Warner AOL, Covad, @home, and several other broadband suppliers. Instead of paying $24 a month just for Internet access and a mailbox, Windows users had the opportunity to pay $40 a month for Microsoft World, which included both Net access and unlimited, automated updates to any installed Microsoft software.

This also gave Microsoft control over most of the consumer Internet and ownership of the mail servers that handled about 80% of the world's email. With their huge staff of well trained programmers, Microsoft created incredibly sophisticated scanning programs that could detect spam, worms, and viruses before they even reached a subscriber's mailbox. Instead of delivering unwanted messages and malware, it was blackholed - and Windows updated to make it resistant to each virus or worm within hours of discovery.

IT folk rejoiced, for they no longer had to read security bulletins or help users install system patches. And not a soul complained when the spam dried up and blew away,

But it didn't stop there. Windows became ubiquitous, passing the 98% level. With secure broadband connections and the hooks built into Windows, users could access their computers and their data from anywhere in the world - well, anywhere on Microsoft Net. You could link to your office files from home, which greatly increased the level of telecommuting. You could also link to the games and projects on your home computer from work. The line between computers grew blurred, and to facilitate sharing, more and more users began to rent space on Microsoft Net servers, where data would be available even if the home or office computer was turned off.

Privacy freaks worried about what Microsoft could do if it had unlimited access to the data on everyone's computers. Well, today we know. They made a better world by building a better Net. Outside of the classic Internet, peopled only by those who refuse to use Windows, freedom loving pornographers, gamblers, and con artists have freedom to do as they choose; in the Microsoft World, the well behaved masses are free from temptation.

Microsoft has made the world a better place, especially for those of us in the United States of Microsoft. They bought all the major record companies and allowed unrestricted copying of music tracks over MS Net - at just 25¢ per track. They eliminated all the competing word processors, spreadsheets, databases, and other programs, making it easier for us to simply get our work done. They financed the national debt and forged the new U.S. constitution of 2005. They alert the FBI about pedophiles foolish enough to use Windows. They report anarchists and terrorists to the proper authorities around the world.

We all feel a lot safer with Microsoft in control.

And if you check Expedia, you'll see they even have the airlines running on time.

It's a Microsoft World, and I wouldn't want it any other way.

- Anne Onymus

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