Teretz Syndrome

Thursday, July 1, 2004. 12:18AM

The other day I booted up my computer to discover, to my horror, that I had picked up some kind of ad ware from somewhere. I don't know where. Some "malicious website," apparently. Now that got me thinking: if I, an IT professional are unable to protect computers from this crap, then imagine how much the casual user folks - y'know who I mean, the people who double click the menu items - must suffer from it. For a few days I pondered, and then suddenly it hit me: the solution to the worlds computing problems. Microsoft should buy a cigarette company.

Now, it doesn't have to be a giant cigarette company, but it needs to be pretty big. Bill Gate's personal fortune is over 40 billion dollars - the same figure I've heard quoted as Microsoft's cash reserve. The exact figure isn't really important. However large the cigarette company, they're more than be capable of raising the asking price.

America's largest cigarette company is Philip Morris, who has about 49% of the market share. They're a big global posse owned by the Altria Group, who owns many things, Kraft foods among them. Philip Morris will set you back around $6.4 billion. Going for the top do however, seems a little brash to me, so I'm going to recommend that we go for number two, R.J. Reynolds.

R.J. Reynolds have about a 24% market share, and are worth about $7.1 billion. They produce my personal cigarette of choice, Camel. They also have a new product, Eclipse, which you can read about here (provided, of course, that you are over eighteen and a smoker, or prepared to lie to that effect). Eclipse, it seems, is the cigarette of the future. It's for mature adults, who have decided not to quit smoking, but would like to minimize the negative effects on themselves and those around them. It's a kind of funny tube thing, made of thicker than regular paper. It sort of heats the tobacco internally, making a different kind of smoke, and not actually burning the cigarette, so you end up with this sort of funny tube at the end. This sounds to me a lot like just the sort of innovation that could make us the nicotine delivery giant of the not to distant future.

When this purchase is complete, Microsoft battens down all the hatches. The development wing is moved to an ultra secure compound in a mountain somewhere, with no net access. Everyone is housed on site, and can't leave for two years. Wives and children are housed in a nearby purpose built town, which has communication with the outside world, via the internet and telephone and so on, but these things are monitored, and no visitors are allowed. All the developers who choose to live in the town or even visit it are subject to strict security coming and going. The houses are all bugged. Confidentiality agreements pave the streets. There are no press releases. The only thing that comes in is all the latest software from around the world, and necessary sundries, like food and Coca-Cola. What are they working on behind this iron curtain? Nobody knows. Nobody tells. The internet is nothing but speculation.

In the meantime, however, R. J. Reynolds goes into a massive, aggressive marketing campaign for their Eclipse cigarettes. All the pop stars smoke them. All the actors smoke them. Even the cool alternative people smoke them. Deep down, everyone knows that smoking is cool, and all of a sudden all the things that have almost made it socially unacceptable the last few years are gone. Smoking doesn't become something that some people do - it's something that everyone does. You walk into the foyer of a public building not sucking on an Eclipse and people look at you funny. Then, a year and a bit since Eclipse took off, the bombshell drops. Eclipse contains a chemical that reacts with your blood type to give you one of five distinctly different health problems. Eclipse is far more addictive than your average cigarette used to be, but in a subtler way - you don't get a measurable withdrawal, it's just that you have to smoke. Smoking while pregnant doesn't harm your baby - your baby will be just fine until it's a year and a half old, and it develops Downs Syndrome. Sure, Eclipse release a lot less smoke than regular cigarettes, but just a hint of second hand smoke is enough to make most people smokers for life - not to mention all the side effects. All around the world people band into class action lawsuits. Massive suits with thousands of plaintiffs bog down the highest court in every major market of Eclipse (and, coincidentally every major market of Microsoft). R. J. Reynolds sacks its board over and over again. Its legal teams are shuffled between cases and continents like the veritable ball under the cup. There is, of course, no smoking gun. Every scientist who worked on the development of the cigarette is locked somewhere deep in Mount Microsoft, or possibly dead. Jurors are bribed, killed, dismissed and go missing. Judges are the same. R. J. Reynolds doesn't care about the outcome of these cases, but they've got a forty billion dollar cheque from Microsoft, and they're prepared to spend every penny of it on prolonging these cases.

Then, suddenly, Microsoft announces a massive, free concert at their mountain. Who? Yes, the Who. The Who, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, James Brown, Van Morrison, Paul McCartney (with Ringo Starr and the surviving Beach Boys), Pink Floyd, Kiss, Michael Jackson (with special appearance by the Jackson Five), Jarvis Cocker, David Bowie, Britney Spears, Tom Jones, Avril Lavigne, The Muppets, Justin Timberlake (with special guests N'Sync), The Foo Fighters, Sting, Bjork, Cindy Lauper and Chris Jericho's cover band, Fozzy. The point is not who's there. The point is that this is plainly the greatest line up ever, and more to the point, it's free. There's room for three hundred thousand on the floor, a million seated, and a whole pile more standing on their cars. The place packs out. People travel the world to see it. Everyone who's anyone is there. The thing is massive. It culminates with a massive ensemble performance of Bohemian Rhapsody at midnight, and they blow the mounting up with fireworks and confetti, then, too thunderous applause, out walks none other than the world favorite computer geek, Bill Gates. "Ladies and Gentlemen… children of all ages… I give you… LONGHORN." All around the stadium, flash bangs fire off. For a second night turns to day. A massive blimp, an exact replica of the box this new edition of Windows will ship in descends from the night over the screaming audience. Another blinding flash, and huge robots, representing the ghosts of Hendrix, Mozart, Elvis, and Johnny Cash descend from the mountain and (along with the other artists) play the "Longhorn Theme" - an instant pop classic written by Bruce Springsteen especially for this event.

After this there are some more pyrotechnics, and the IT industry heads into some massive halls within the mountain for a press demonstration and tech briefing. Windows Longhorn, Bill Gates quickly explains, is no longer an operating system - it is software. It is the be all and end all of computing. It is built on a kernel far more secure than Linux, or even MacOS, with better file management. Plug and play has been perfected, and a standard has been developed to optimize any future hardware without the need for drivers. Windows Longhorn is only shipped as one completely scaleable version - the same software that runs on your mobile phone will also run on an enterprise level server. The chief feature comes, however, with its functionality. Not just Microsoft Office, but the complete suite of Microsoft products is integrated into Longhorn, and these have been hugely upgraded. Humble Microsoft paint now has the best functionality of Adobe Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro combined. The native CD burning capability of Windows is now a program with the functionality of Nero Burning ROM, and all the of crazy encryption emulating features of programs like Alcohol 120%. Windows Media player now plays all conceivable formats of music and video. In fact, basically what Microsoft has done is scan software libraries and internet download sites, and added every functionality that any program someone might have used right into the Windows core.

Because of this, it is no longer possible to install third party software onto a Windows machine. Each copy of windows comes complete with something called the Microsoft Development Tool, which is simultaneously an excellent programming interface, web design application, and the Microsoft Game Engine. The Microsoft Game engine enables you to build 3D environments and models extremely quickly, and it is the only part of Windows where you can write your own code, in the form of extra modules which build onto the engine. The engine has a "self defense" mechanism, which will estimate what the code does before it is run, and avoid crashes and malicious attacks on Windows. This estimation thing works universally as well. Windows will not compile a program that will adversely affect Windows. No more spy ware. No more ad ware. Hacking made a lot more complex. Just clean, safe computing. Reliable as water.

The Microsoft Development tool also includes a Windows Skin builder. This new Windows, you see, is customizable to a never before seen degree. Much of the new Windows functionality built into Windows has to be turned on (for example, if the user wants to use session browsing like Mozilla) in the preferences panel. These new Windows Skins allow the user to customize which of these options are enabled, and other cosmetic things, and pass them to other users. They cannot, however, add functionality that is not already there. Rest assured, however, Bill Gates tells the now wide eyed geek audience at his tech briefing. If you have a genuine need for functionality that is not in Windows, simply contact the Microsoft Support division, and they will have a patch to you within 24 hours.

Aghast and the magnitude of this new software, the IT industry goes home from the tech briefing to their computers, and begins to tap out worried articles about the impending death of the software industry. The next day Longhorn ships. IBM, Dell and HP announce that any new computers they supply will have Longhorn installed on them and no other software (these deals are the subject of multi-billion dollar contracts brokered just days before the official release of Longhorn). A few days later IT companies all over the world get their copies, and start to pull them apart. About a week later the first one announces that they have discovered their own proprietary code within Windows Longhorn, and other companies begin to follow suit. It is soon widely revealed that the only way Microsoft managed to build the entire spectrum of mankind's software in just over two years was by ripping off everyone else's code.

The IT companies' band into class actions, put together their cases, and file lawsuits into every major court in all of Microsoft's key markets. They are all met with the same response.

We apologize, but due to the extreme length and volume of class action cases currently been undertaken against R. J. Reynolds Tobacco, in addition to our normal case load, it will be impossible to hear your case within the next three years - possibly the next five.

And that's it. By the time they make it court, ninety percent of the plaintiffs, having had to survive for years with close to zero sales, have, of course, gone bankrupt. But that doesn't matter, because a year or so later, having built the definitive piece of software, Microsoft sold off its distribution, service and development contracts to IBM, sold all of its own assets, and having made millionaires of all its staff, divided up the remainder among the shareholders.

R. J. Reynolds Tobacco, its share price decimated by years of litigation, eventually used the remainder of its cash reserve to buy back all of its stock, becoming a wholly owned limited company, owned by itself, and filing for bankruptcy soon after. The remaining assets were eventually sold, and used to pay it's many creditors less than half a cent for every dollar they were owed.

There was, of course, eventually a lengthy debate to decide whether or not any defendant remained who could be sued as Microsoft. Bill Gates, while not admitting any personal responsibly, happily settled with these few remaining parties for only a few hundred million dollars.

And that's it, everybody. That's how Microsoft is going to win.

I was going to give you a picture of some Microsoft "Booth Babes" - the girls who stand around the stalls at IT conventions - however, Microsoft Booth Babes are, in a word, skanks, so instead I'll give you a badly photo shopped montage of babes from other companies. I'm sure you'll find whatever part of Asian girls that rocks your boat somewhere in this mess of flesh.

I said long.
Man, I'd sure like to give a few of them my Longhorn. Long.

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