IF YOU ASKED me to name the three scariest threats facing the human race, I'd give the same answer that most people would: nuclear war, global warming and Windows. So I was happy to learn that the federal government has decided to protect me from Microsoft.
Sometimes, when we face a huge threat, we need the government to protect us. This idea was dramatized in the recent movie "Deep Impact," which you might have missed because it was in theaters for only about 15 minutes before spontaneously mutating into rental videocassettes. The plot is that the astronomy community -- which I sometimes wish would just shut up -- announces a comet is hurtling through space on course that will cause it to smash into the Earth right before the end of the movie and destroy all life on the planet, which consists primarily of actress Tea Leoni.
Our nation's leaders, recognizing that the comet is (1) the greatest danger the human race has ever faced, and (2) unlikely to make large campaign contributions, decide to destroy it by launching a rocket containing Robert Duvall. The tactic seems to have failed, and when the world appears to be doomed, U.S. President Morgan Freeman, conveying sincerity by means of eye bags the size of catchers' mitts, announces that the government has a plan to save 2 million people who have been determined, by totally objective means, to be worthy of survival, including: top government officials, doctors, relatives of top government officials, movie extras, scientists and Monica Lewinsky. The plan is that these people will spend two years in a cave in Missouri, along with precious artifacts of American culture and, presumably, a huge quantity of deodorant.
But just when all appears to be lost, Robert Duvall manages to destroy most of the comet. All that's left is a small piece that falls harmlessly into the Atlantic Ocean, after which a computer-generated wave destroys New York and Washington. So it's a happy ending after all.
But my point is that when we are faced with a threat we cannot handle ourselves, we depend on our government to protect us. And that's what is happening right now, as the antitrust division of the Justice Department takes on a huge , arrogant monopoly; a monopoly that, by dominating its market and eliminating competitors, has left us consumers, with no choice but to buy its products and pay whatever inflated price it demands: the U.S. Postal Service.
No, sorry. The federal government wouldn't dare take on the Postal Service, which is heavily armed and recently tested a thermonuclear device. So, instead, the government is going after software giant Microsoft (motto: "We Have Worked Out All the Buggs").
Microsoft's No. 1 product is Windows, which now comes automatically installed on every computer in the world and many kitchen appliances. Technically, Windows is an "operating system," which means that it supplies your computer with the basic commands that it needs to suddenly, with no warning whatsoever, stop operating. I speak from experience. Many a time I have spent hours writing a serious and thoughtful column on an important issue, only to have Windows get into a snit and call a general computer strike that erases all my work moments before deadline.
The big dispute between the government and Microsoft concerns the Internet "browser," which is the piece of software that puts a message on your screen saying the Internet is currently busy and you should try again later. The potential market for this service is huge, so Microsoft would like you to use its browser, and not somebody else's. Microsoft can be very insistent about this kind of thing. On my current computer, Windows has created a little Earth-shaped icon on the screen, and if I click it, it tries to get me to sign up for something called the Microsoft Network. Windows will not let me get rid of this icon. I've tried everything, including scrubbing the screen with harsh abrasive cleansers.
So I think the Justice Department should spend however many hundreds of millions of dollars it takes to figure out a way to get this thing off my screen, even if it takes military force or -- as a last resort -- duct tape. I also want Janet Reno to appoint somebody -- I'm thinking Kenneth Starr -- to look into the possibility that Windows is cheating at solitaire. Above all, I think the government needs to immediately start constructing caves in Missouri, in case the Postal Service goes postal.
Pub Date: 7/05/98