March 15, 1999 -- Newsletter #19

By Joe Burns

G O O D I E S T O G O ! (tm)
March 15, 1999 -- Newsletter #19
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Greetings, Weekend Silicon Warriors...

Hey, Newsletter 19! No, we can't dance together...

Do you know what the main challenge is with writing these newsletters? Timeliness. I write this newsletter on Wednesday, but you don't get it in your e-mail box until Monday. The topics that I cover have to be broad enough so that what I write doesn't seem like "old news" when you open the e-mail.

But this topic is just too great to pass up. If this newsletter reads as old, please forgive me. I'm just having way too much fun reading about it, so I have to write about it.


Waiter, there's a GUID on my computer.

Have you had the opportunity to read about the latest train wreck in the Pacific Northwest? It seems Windows 98 can track you. (The programmers must have been watching one of those nature shows where they stun the bear and put that little yellow tag on its ear and thought that might be a good thing to apply to computer programming... I'm joking, of course.)

A programmer, living an entire country away from Microsoft Inc., found out that when you save a document in Word or Excel, under Windows 98, a 32-digit number appears in a log in the operating system.

"So what?" you say. The So What is that when you register Windows 98, that log is sent back to the research utility kitchens at Microsoft, Inc. And since each of the numbers generated is unique to the computer creating it, the concept of using those numbers to track your cyber-doings doesn't seem all that far-fetched.

The number the software generates is called a "GUID" or "globally unique identifier." My concern is whether the accent is on the first syllable or the last.

To its credit, Microsoft doesn't deny the GUID is being used. It claims this was intended to help the user. The purpose was to allow different, or previous, versions of software to use the number to help "clean up" the document. (I didn't really understand it either, but that's what was said.)

And also, to Microsoft's credit, the GUID is nothing new. I have a few computer books from years back that discuss using GUIDs in graphic and animation programming. So don't think that this GUID is something that was cooked up through an ample amount of eye-of-newt and tongue-of-goat.

All this aside, what troubles me the most is that Steven Sinofsky, VP for Microsoft products, claimed that personal computer users probably won't even come into contact with this problem. He said that only a portion of the 32 numbers created by the GUID are Windows 98 registration numbers. The remaining numbers are codes created by network adapters. Those are computers that get their connection to the Internet through Local Access Networks (LAN) or other kinds of high- speed network connections. Let me translate that: businesses.

Oh, good. It helps to know that the tracking will not take place at the level of people sending salad dressing recipes across the AOL grid, but will rather happen at the level of business computers. Thank goodness. There's nothing to be tracked at that level (sarcasm added for effect).

So what is being done about it? Well, nothing, if you go to the Microsoft home page. I'm looking right at it and this story isn't being noted at all, even though this morning another Microsoft VP said a fix was going to be made available. Apparently that fix will not be a download from the Web site. My guess is the fix will arrive in the mail. What the hey, they already have our home addresses. ;->

Now, I'd like to get to the heart of the matter: Our intense love/hate relationship with Microsoft. Can someone explain to me how a company that is so reviled can be used on over 85% of all the computers in the world?

I teach a computer class and I intend to talk to my students about this case. I can guess their responses:

"Ugh! Microsoft!"

"I hate Microsoft!"

"That &*)!@ Microsoft!"

(That last kid always swears.)

After they rant for a while, I always ask them what Microsoft has done to harm them, or at least what the company has done to warrant such a strong reaction. You know what I get? Blank stares. To them personally, the company has done nothing. Someone finally pipes up and proclaims that Windows is "buggy." Then someone else says Macintosh is "better." But that's about the level of response.

I speak with programmers and they usually come up with a few more detailed reasons about how the operating system has bugs here and there and that it doesn't run lickity-split, or that it doesn't compile correctly. But don't all computers have those problems? Don't tell me Macintosh computers never crash. I know they do.

But let's assume for a moment that everything I'm told is true and all the bugs are there. Why do we keep buying the product if we hate the company? I have a theory: We hate the company because it's fun to do so.

Some theory, huh?

It's accepted practice to claim You Hate Microsoft. You can make a statement about the company and heads will nod all over the place. Then you get in the car and grab the latest Microsoft software.

That's the part I think is the real kicker. Although we "hate" this company, we also pay for the privilege of hating them. No one has said we have to buy Windows 95, 98, any upgrade, or this Windows 2000 that's coming out. But we do. You can't fault Microsoft for coming out with new products. They're a business, for goodness sake! That's what they do! They make products, then they sell them. No one said you had to buy them.

Sure, a case can be made that in order to stay current in the world, you must stay up-to-date with Microsoft software. I guess to a point that's true. But is it really Microsoft pushing that curve or the people and businesses who are buying the new stuff?

Finally, I guess the biggest reason we all seem to hate Microsoft is that they keep giving us great reasons to hate them. This new GUID thing is a great reason!

If you believe that Microsoft put in that GUID to track us then it's my opinion that you're waaay over-thinking this as a conspiracy theory. I highly, highly doubt that was the case. I think they truly wanted to help us when moving files around. It's just that they didn't beta test it enough and it blew up in their faces.

The media is framing this as another evil Microsoft plot to overthrow civilization and take over Christmas, but it just ain't so. This is commonly known as A Stupid Mistake. The problem for Microsoft is that their mistakes take place on a public stage for all the world to see.

This will go away. This will get fixed. And Microsoft will creep a little higher in the level of good graces. They will sell a ton of software and Bill Gates will continue his reign as the richest man in the world. In a year, this will be a footnote in an argument between two computer programmers.

But don't worry. Microsoft will do it again. They'll put something out that will have some insignificant little glitch that the media will blow out of proportion and we can all point at the monster on the hill and talk about how much we hate it.

I wonder though, if in the hallowed halls of Microsoft, the brass is upset or happy. Promotion is the name of the game in the software business. The more the media screams, the more the name gets out, and the more the public knows what Microsoft is offering.

There's an old line that goes, "Attention is good, even bad attention."

There's another that goes, "You can't buy this kind of advertising."

> >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

And that's that. Thanks for reading. I'm darn close to finishing the JavaScript Goodies book. Next week, I'll write up a newsletter on the process of getting a computer book published and written. It's a time-consuming process, to say the least.

Joe Burns, Ph.D.

And Remember: There are 35 different accepted grounds for divorce in America, but not one is accepted in all 50 states. Check your local listings.

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