Ask any bitter geek about Microsoft, and you'll get the same complaint. "Take away their operating system monopoly and Microsoft is a bunch of clueless thugs without an original idea in their heads." Anyone who's ever used Windows ends up with an axe to grind, and disgruntled Microsoft customers are everywhere -- posting to alt.destroy.microsoft, drawing scathing cartoons, and collecting quotes from Bill Gates for their anti-Microsoft Web pages. ("If you can't make it good, at least make it look good.")
Angry word-of-mouth is the worst possible kind of marketing -- but with Microsoft's operating system pre-installed on 90 percent of personal computers sold, consumers have suffered for years in unacknowledged agony, seething with powerlessness and rage.
And waiting for someone to strike back...
Even Microsoft employees hate Microsoft's promotional campaigns. In an honest moment, Microsoft marketer Deedee Welsh once confided that "You can't imagine the dumb giveaways Microsoft has that they will put our name on." Garbage cans, yo-yos, even ceramic Mardi Gras masks -- which Welsh characterized as "the butt-ugliest masks in the world."
No one knows what Microsoft's highly-paid marketing professionals wanted to accomplish with those masks, but the intended result probably wasn't "pulverization." One night Welsh stole the leftover ceramic masks for a raucous party after a trade show, where she tossed them into the air while bloodthirsty geeks pelted them with mushballs. Ultimately, "geek skeet" didn't increase brand loyalty. But it sure was fun.
Microsoft's dominance has been building for years. With a monopoly on desktop operating systems, marketing is barely necessary -- but Microsoft has billions of dollars, so they do it anyway. Over $200 million was lavished on a single-day event in Redmond, Washington, when Microsoft launched the first major upgrade to Windows in 1995. Jay Leno himself was flown to Microsoft's Redmond campus, where he told bad Windows jokes on-stage with a testy Bill Gates. ("You're booing that one? Jesus Christ....")
And yours truly, Lou Cabron, was there! Since Microsoft was so anxious to court the press, I made up a magazine and then told Microsoft I was covering the event for them. No one even bothered to check whether or not the magazine existed! The moral of this story: Microsoft is gullible.
So does Microsoft really suck up to the press? Let me put it this way -- there were six kinds of beer at the press reception. The next morning, a chartered bus escorted me, along with the real reporters, from Seattle to Microsoft's Redmond campus. We were regaled by the luxury and splendor of prime Seattle real estate, and whisked past the picketers from Apple and under the mini-blimp AOL had hired to hover over the event. Each and every reporter walked away with a free CD player, a Microsoft tote bag, and a free Windows 95 upgrade CD.
That was only the beginning. When Windows 98 hit the stores, Microsoft-haters converged, meeting the throng of consumerist sheep with free copies of the rival operating system Linux. Hundreds of copies were distributed by over 80 counter-insurgents, waving signs proclaiming "Linux: Because there is a better way." Their message was unmistakable.
"Linux... did we mention it's free?"
"Linux. Aisle 28B."
"Fry's sells Linux!"
To this day, geeks will tell you that the great revolt continues every time someone installs a non-Microsoft operating system. Yes, Virginia, there is an alternative.
Webmasters found creative ways to keep the flames of hate alive. Now Microsoft-bashers are hard at work suggesting alternate Community Chest cards for a game called "Microsoft Monopoly." It's like regular Monopoly -- except the game includes references to the historic antitrust hearing. ("Judge laughs at your lawyer. Lose 3 turns... Get caught faking a video to be presented as courtroom evidence. Go to jail.")
In November, a federal judge ruled that Microsoft did, indeed, exercise monopoly power over the market for computer systems, and as Microsoft's fortunes turn, a thousand geeks are there to laugh. Unfortunately, the humorists at MS-Monopoly.com still have a few lingering worries about leftover phalanxes of lawyers. Anticipating a legal backlash from either Microsoft or Parker Brothers, the site's Webmasters have already installed pull-down menus to help people sue them.
Now you can pick up the torch. Break into your boss's office and install look-alike screens that say "Microsloth Winblows98" every time the computer is booted up. ("You are now waiting for Winblows to infect your system...") Countless Web sites document "replacement screens" for the corporate clouds-on-blue-sky artwork that's installed with Windows by default -- the ones that display patronizing messages like "It is now safe to turn off your system." Replace the Windows logo with pictures of Cindy Crawford, Jimmy Buffett, or Wonder Woman -- or use these sites' instructions to create your own replacement screens. (A taunting Steve Jobs? Beavis and Butthead?)
My personal favorite just says: "I'd rather be outside."
Take that, Windows 98!
Microsoft may have a stranglehold on our software, on our computers, and on our very lives -- but users have found creative ways to fight back. The army of anti-Microsoft guerillas is legion. Today we honor them with the first inductee into the Lou Cabron Microsoft-bashing hall of fame.
Regular "Internet for Assholes" readers may remember Bernadette Taylor from our installment on stalking. On her Web page, the exhibitionist displays sultry photos of herself in steamy poses -- naked in the shower, naked in the snow, naked on the beach... well, you get the idea. But the important thing is that she also hates Microsoft. After assembling an audience of one million page views a day, she began denying access to anyone at the company, and even to people using Microsoft-owned products like Hotmail, WebTV, or the Microsoft Network.
She even asked her readers to suggest additional Microsoft products to block -- asking that the emails be sent with the subject line "Piss off Microsoft."
It's the shaft heard round the world. Microsoft-hating Webmasters soon began plotting a scheme on a grander scale: "Nude for Netscape." At this writing, they're assembling a massive array of Web pages packed with photos of themselves and others -- naked! Each page will include a script checking which type of Web browser is accessing the page. Using a Microsoft browser? No nudity for you.
That ought to bring Microsoft to its knees!
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Lou Cabron is GettingIt's resident asshole.Internet for Assholes runs each Wednesday on GettingIt.