Microsoft's Vision of the Future:
Coming on a Computer Near You
By Don Monkerud
Microsoft's "Creating Computers You Can Trust" advertorial, which it
recently placed around the country, claims to be an essay on
technology, society and the future. Unfortunately it only tells part
of the story.
Computers are easily the most frustrating invention of the last
century. They require the mastery of a whole new language, hours of
training, heavy investments in constant hardware and software
upgrades, and innumerable phone calls to tech support.
On the economic front, computers transfer billions of investment
dollars from the world's poor nations to the Western industrialized
world. They enable the development of new weapons systems and allow
eavesdropping on business and private communications around the
world. They allow multinational corporations to closely coordinate
their businesses to the remote corners of the earth.
Although it has already brought earth-shattering changes, the
computer age is just beginning. Microsoft claims that computers will
pervade every aspect of our lives in the future. Computer networks
have brought tremendously positive changes to society. Not only can
people communicate inexpensively over vast differences, but
information and goods are now available from virtually anywhere at
anytime. There are also dangers.
Technology now has the ability to monitor the faces of those who
attend sporting events and concerts and match them with suspected
terrorist. In the future, society could decide to include unpaid
parking ticket violators, delinquent loan payers, or even
anti-globalization demonstrators. Nations like China are already
monitoring all email. The possibilities are endless.
But there are also problems. Technology companies are addicted to
growth and their markets are becoming saturated. Consumers don't need
endless operating system upgrades and a gazillion application
features. To meet declining demands, companies need new streams of
Microsoft is not alone. Virtually the whole computer industry is
built on continual upgrades, a version of planned obsolesce. To solve
the problem of decreasing revenues, hardware manufacturers such as
Dell, Compaq, IBM and HP continue to develop new technology to lure
They swarm to new markets such as mobile telephony to boost sales.
Others, such as Microsoft and AOL are finding steady streams of
revenue with monthly Internet subscription fees.
But even these new revenue streams aren't enough. Microsoft in
particular has larger ambitions. To solve the revenue problem,
Microsoft has embarked on a program-called .net or hailstorm- to
encourage more people to buy on the Internet. By selling Microsoft
software for both ends of the transaction, Microsoft can charge a
percentage of transactions and build a robust revenue base for the
From Microsoft's viewpoint, security and ease-of-use are major
reasons why people aren't purchasing more on the Internet. Due to
unscrupulous individuals, personal information is not secure on the
Internet. To overcome consumers fear of having their personal
information stolen off the Internet, Microsoft is engaging legions of
public relations firms to promote "the promise of technology" along
with urging customers to place "faith" and "trust" in the companies
that manage their computer systems.
Ironically, it's the countless flaws in the design of Microsoft's
operating system that leads people to distrust computers.
Applications such as Office and Explorer include designs that allow
Microsoft, as well as the unscrupulous, to access information on our
computers. The real question is not whether people trust their
computers but whether they can trust software that makes computers so
vulnerable to attack. Some suggest that Microsoft needs to create a
company that people can trust and the rest will follow. Unfortunately
they are focused on increasing their revenue.
Microsoft acknowledges that it will take years-they call it a
"challenge"-for consumers to trust their computers. That's years to
migrate its revenue stream from a "continual upgrade" model to a
"charge you for everything you do" model where customers pay
merchants a transaction fee for using Microsoft products. Microsoft
will invest billions of dollars in the effort. They will purchase a
fleet of companies and enlist armies of technicians, public relations
flacks, and marketing gurus.
In the wake of these changes, the consumer will find the American
landscape vastly changed. Consumers will be able to order virtually
every product over the Internet and have it delivered to their
doorstep. While this model applies primarily to commodity goods, even
higher-priced services and goods, such as financial services, luxury
items and health care, will be sold with a combination of Internet
and personal phone service.
This will make the "hollowing out" of communities, begun by Wal-Mart,
will seem like children's play. Not only will there be no "downtowns"
in small towns, but even shopping malls will become largely
unnecessary except for a Disneyland-type "shopping experience." One
envisions a town's "commercial area" becoming miles of Pizza Huts and
McDonald's. If Internet taxes continued to be banned, city tax bases
will shrink to new lows.
Once achieved, Microsoft's revenue stream will be insured for years
to come, and the consumer will pay and pay and pay. The only
surprising aspect of this is that Microsoft promotes its vision of
the future as a "benefit to society."
This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Wed Nov 21 2001 - 19:44:24 EST