This morning I sat down at my Win95 computer, turned it on, and to my rage and frustration, was greeted by this message:
Cursing, I pressed the space bar. Very soon I had an entire screen filled with repetitions of this message.
Hearing my sounds of distress, the Better Half turned around from where he was sitting directly behind me at the dining room table, reading the paper, and said, “Blame it on Bill Gates.”
“Well, duh,” I responded crossly, wondering whether there was any point in pressing Control-Alt-Delete, or whether that would only make things worse.
He said, “Bill Gates, the Master Visionary, the Great Innovator, failed to foresee that hard drives would become standard, and that you wouldn’t always have to start your computer by putting a disk in the drive.”
I said, “Wha’?”
He said, “Take the disk out of Drive A. I was working with Print Shop last night and I guess I left one of my floppies in there. Sorry.”
Well, shit. I took the floppy out of Drive A, pressed the spacebar, and was shortly in business for the day.
I have been brooding about this little incident all morning, and I have finally realized that there was more going on than yet another Windows fuckup. Somehow, that simple statement, that the “Master Visionary” could fail to foresee something so fundamental as the existence of a permanent hard drive, caused the scales to fall from my eyes, and I now see Bill Gates for what he truly is. Not the “Master Visionary”, not “the Great Innovator”, but just a guy who happened to be in the right time and the right place to ride the rocket. I used to be so intimidated by him. He, the subject of countless TIME and Newsweek cover stories, featured as nothing less than “The Man Who Changed The World”, stands revealed as no more clueful about computers than my aged mother, surfing the Internet with one hand on the fire extinguisher, in case the World Wide Web should explode in her face.
I used to think he was the Antichrist. Seriously. But now I realize he’s not even a sort of Junior Antichrist. He’s not even a Minion. He’s just another businessman. Businessmen will be a dime a dozen at the Apocalypse. He’s a single paragraph in the computer history books–a short paragraph.
And Microsoft’s travails with the Justice Department are revealed as no more than the petty struggles of a large Seattle contractor, whose efforts to wriggle out from under charges of “monopoly” have availed him naught.
I found the latest Microsoft print ad campaign to be frighteningly inscrutable. Remember it? That’s the big two-page color ad touting the newest version of Windows, whatever it is. “Buy our software!” it trumpeted. “It’s much, much better than that other, sucky software we’ve pictured in this ad!” And what’s the sucky software pictured in the ad? Windows 95. Their own software. I mean, wow! This totally blew my mind. “What are they getting at? It takes real goombahs to knock your own product like that. Are they crazy? Or crazy like a fox?”
But now I realize that it wasn’t the Byzantine thought processes of a media giant, but just the clueless blatherings of a large Pacific Northwest contractor, spinning his wheels as he desperately searches for direction in a world that has moved on, leaving him behind.
Farewell, Bill. The rest of us are getting on with our computing lives. Other, more truly innovative minds will bring us into the 21st century. New versions of Windows that automatically render all our other software obsolete is not what the world wants, Bill. You are confusing “innovation” with mere “novelty”. So we will leave you in peace, sitting there in your pathetic rocking chair, remembering the glory days when all the magazines said you were the man who changed the world. Wallace Carothers changed the world, too. So did Garrett Morgan. And so did Joseph Woodland and Bernard Silver. But who remembers them? Only the about.com Inventors website. Soon your name will be added to the list, to sink into obscurity, remembered only by trivia addicts and fifth-graders writing book reports.
You’re not Henry Ford, Bill. You’re not Kemeny and Kurtzas
You’re not even Nolan Bushnell.
You’re nothing, Bill. Bye-bye.