Going Gates's Way
I'm trying to get excited about the Internet, but it's hard. It's like shopping at one of those big flea markets that suddenly appear at abandoned drive-in movie lots on weekends. It's a lot of stuff you've been living without and don't need, until you see it and then you think you need it, then you get it, and you still don't need it, but now you've got it. It's quite a hodgepodge of stuff, of various degrees of uselessness. As Howard Stern says, the Internet is a collection of bad magazines.Bill Gates, who rules the computer world, which is getting to be the world as we know it, is trying to get excited about the Internet, but you can tell he's finding it hard as well. His underlings have been quoted as saying it's all a fad that will pass like Coleco or electric woks.I doubt it. email is the greatest communication invention of the century. Unlike a phone, you don't need the other person to be available. And unlike a letter, it's quick, informal, and sent without looking for a stamp, an envelope or a blue box on the corner. It's cool. But I'm still on the fence about Web sites, especially becoming one. Why should I pay rent on a digital billboard about me? Do I need this? But it seems to be the small talk of the day. People email you and say "let's link," and then you have to break the news that you are an electronic virgin. I have no site to link, sorry. I am unlinkable.And what's this thing about Netscape Navigator vs. Microsoft's Internet Explorer? Big deal. I don't know how they make money since you get free copies of them on network discs nearly day in the mail. The networks sending me the discs, hoping I'll sign up with them for $20 a month, must be the ones buying Netscape and Explorer. I recently read an article about Netscape's inventor, a boy with barely a whisker, making his first gazillion dollars. That probably made Bill Gates, who owns all the money, sit up and take notice. He invented a Netscape clone. It's just like Netscape but not as good and more complicated, which translates in the computer world as A Better Product. Don't ask me how "not as good and more complicated" can be perceived as better, but inevitably, it is.Both Netscape and Explorer work basically the same way. Sometimes they successfully dial into your service provider, mostly they don't. You can't get a reliable connection, or your cache needs dumping, whatever the heck the cache is, or your configuration extension is corrupted, or your roommate picks up the phone in another room and breaks the connection. It's a miracle you connect at all. Then it's like reading the newspaper, only you just see a quarter of the page at a time, and it folds down slowly like venetian blinds. It might be a story, or a photo, or an ad -- who knows -- but you've got to wait and see. You can't just flip the page until you find something of interest. And on every little block you can see, there's temptations and teasers to go someplace else. They're the "links," and that's fine, but if you link a few times, it's a laborious process to get back where you started, if you can remember where you started. You can get "home," like Dorothy to Kansas, to whatever you designated as your "home" page, but you can't get to, say, a page you looked at 10 pages past your home page and 23 pages past where you are now without backpaging, backpaging, backpaging.But I guess they'll have this all straightened out in 10 years, probably sooner. The Internet today is like the early telephones, where you had to pump the receiver a few times to get an operator, then tell her a number, like Murray Hill 5, 55, 55. The "Murray Hill" part was the equivalent today's http//www. I can't imagine what the Internet of tomorrow will be like, but surely it'll be faster and easier to navigate, and your computer won't be dumping you out every time your cache hits a bump on the circuit board.Bill Gates may have already straightened it out with whatever is the latest version of the Explorer, but I can't tell. Like a genius completely out of touch with the real world, the Gates empire computes above the heads of the rest of us. Case in point, the Apple Macintosh people developed a superb little operating system that even a child can figure out and that is a pleasure to use, but Gates brainwashed corporate America into believing that anything that simple and easy can't be serious and saddled us with the mystifyingly dense MS-DOS, which requires a brain that does calculus for fun and full-time positions in every office for network administrators, computer analysts and troubleshooters. It didn't help the Apple cause that Apple required you to buy a cute little Apple box to hold their Mac operating system, while Gates, like a loose woman with a SID, gave MS-DOS to anybody and everybody.Then, because you have this monster in the office, you are misled to believe you have to have it at home as well, so you'll be "compatible." Then the conspirators dumped a gazillion silly games on the market, convincing you there is more stuff to buy for the compatible PC than a Mac (more stuff, but you don't need it). Windows, revised each year in self-depreciating increments, locks you even farther out of your computer. Now you can peer futilely at what you have wrought without understanding how you did it. You can save files in places you will never, ever in your life, find again. Using Windows is like moving the furniture in your house by standing outside and directing the furniture to move itself by slipping coded maps under the door (the accursed Program Manager). On a Mac, you're inside the house, pushing the sofa where you want it (Drag and Drop). Consider Gates' mothership, Microsoft Word. I have Word 5.0, which is a fine little program, written when Gates only had a billion dollars. I can do everything I want to do with it. Then I upgraded to 6.0, which is still in the box. It moves slowly and eats up all the memory. It paints and draws and templates up wizards and does more stuff than I will ever need to do. They put it on the market knowing it wasn't ready, because a few weeks after I registered my copy, they sent me TWICE as many discs as originally came with it. It was the upgrade to the upgrade, designed to eliminate the "bugs." It's still slow, cluttered, and a pain in the butt. Gates and his crew had overcomputed themselves, convinced that the ease of Word 5.0 needed improving upon, and now they don't know how to work their way down to something actually usable again.Since I was registered with Microsoft (see the book of Revelations where the mark of the devil on our foreheads) I received the Explorer free in the mail, but no explanation as to what the two rows of buttons above the screen did. These days, instead of sending you a manual, they encode the manual onto the disc, which requires some program called Adobe Acrobat to read, so you have to load that, then print out your own manual, if you can figure that much out. You print out the damn 80 pages of manual and the first chapter begins, "How to Install Your Program." Use your head, man! If I've gotten as far as printing out the manual, I installed the program already.So a year later, I decide to load the Explorer disc on a new computer. It took me to the Internet, all right, but there Big Bill had erected a big stop sign. I could go no farther until I downloaded his new, improved Explorer, the Explorer 3.0! Oh no, 3.0! Anytime Bill gets to computing and encoding, it can't be good. Sure enough, a 30-minute download later (that must be the 3.0 part), half my hard drive is eaten alive by the monster that is Explorer 3.0. Like a veg-o-matic, it slices, it dices, it probably talks to the Hubble. Gates has filed extensions, preferences, aliases, and read-me's in every nook and cranny of my computer. Not only do I have the Explorer interface, which is all I wanted, I seem to have a bunch of applications for either building my own web site or becoming a hub server on a space shuttle. My roommate comes home and looks in the computer directory for his Rebel Assault game and wants to know what the heck did I do? What's all this stuff in there??I didn't do it! Bill Gates took over our computer like a pod person from outer space. And we're on a Mac, too, and still, he infiltrated our perimeters! He put in his thumb and pulled out our plum! Because nearly a week later, the central processing unit on our brand new computer not just crashed, it rolled over and died. Gates, sensing a non-Gates controlled 'puter, had killed it, I'm positive. And all I wanted was my daily print-out of the Howard Stern radio show. Maybe there's a magazine I can buy.