The circus comes to town

Yes folks, step right up, it's Windows XP release time, and the media circus is getting into full swing. D-Day is apparently October 25th, but between now and then, get ready for a veritable feast for the senses.

Breathless, the child bursts into the kitchen. “Mummy! Mummy! Come quick! You gotta look!” Startled and curious, the mother looks up from her bread dough, wipes her hands on her apron, and is dragged to the front door by her excited progeny.

Standing on the verandah, she gazes in awe at a cavalcade of colour passing by in the street — pantalooned clowns with farcical hats, jugglers and fire-breathers, savage tigers in cages on the backs of brightly-coloured wagons, noise and cheering ... The circus has come to town.

Yes folks, step right up, it’s Windows XP release time, and the media circus is getting into full swing. D-Day is apparently October 25th, but between now and then, get ready for a veritable feast for the senses, including (but not limited to):

  • An endless stream of faceless Microsoft evangelists and yes-men proselytising on how much better your life will be, how much more sex you’ll get etc etc, when you move to this most stable and powerful version of Windows ever.
  • Ceaseless, unremitting advertising in magazines and newspapers, on television and billboards. There’s a rumour that in a multimillion-dollar deal Microsoft has even leased the reverse side of the roll on a popular brand of toilet paper for printing XP advertising messages (this is surely a prelude to its imminent release of Windows CP, the operating system of choice for Ceramic Pans?)
  • A flurry of me-too releases from the few remaining significant software developers in a desperate attempt not to get left out of the hype.
  • Brief snorts of condescending derision from the Linux community, before they turn back to the absorbing and difficult task of writing the next dozen Linux windowing systems and desktop managers.
Behind the scenes, of course, there will be the usual headless-chicken impersonations in companies with Windows-compatible products as they try to work out what new and exciting ways now exist to break their code or cripple their drivers, and a chorus of groans from system administrators who only just decided that Windows 2000 is probably safe and stable enough to roll out on to their networks.

Don’t get me wrong here — I’m sure the product itself will be competent: I’m just getting seriously sick of this tedious biennial onslaught from Microsoft’s marketing droids as they attempt to extract yet more billions from an apathetic and helpless public. I have no problem with true innovation, but I also don’t believe that innovation sticks to a two-year schedule.

From what I’ve seen and read of it so far, Windows XP looks for the most part like a set of somewhat incremental improvements over Windows 2000, with its most noticeable feature being a garishly over-coloured and over-engineered user interface. Still, the public love the iMac, which has to be one of the ugliest computers in history, so there’s plenty of scope to believe that they will also like the bright primary colours splattered all over the Windows XP “user experience”. Oh, and then there’s “Windows Media Player” too — I bet that’ll get ya juices flowin’ ... (yawn).

Of course, there are significant new things in Windows XP that Microsoft won’t be immortalising in marketing verse — such as compulsory product activation and restrictions on CD burning. Microsoft knows that we’re all pirates at heart, and has therefore magnanimously decided to protect us from our worst instincts. And, lest you think I’m being unnecessarily cynical here, I suggest that these are just the beginning. The DOJ case against Microsoft has now collapsed into the interminable farce that is the workings of due process in the US justice system; combine this with a corporate-friendly US president and Microsoft now have what they have always wanted — a true, indisputable monopoly over the world’s day-to-day desktop. If you don’t think the screws will be going on from here on in, then you’re probably the kind of person that really needs to be careful about real estate purchases, special offers and $99 overseas holidays in Majorca.

Is it just me, or is there really much less to get excited about in the computer industry these days? There was a time when I would have really looked forward to going to the circus, but now I know that when I paid my entrance fee, all I’d see inside the big tent would be one large, bored lion, grotesquely fat because it had just eaten all the other performers.

Harris is the Dunedin-based developer of internet email software Pegasus Mail. Send email to David Harris. Send letters for publication in Computerworld to Computerworld Letters.

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