Descent into Microsoft (Part 2)

Fake News written by Jon Splatz on Friday, February 12, 1999

from the I-Scooped-Eric-Raymond dept.

I had made it to the base camp for my arduous climb to the summit of Mt. Everest. I held in my two hands the Windows 98 CD-ROM, installation manual, Certificate of Authenticity, and End User License Agreement. Now all I had to do was give these items back to Microsoft, and receive my contractually obligated Windows refund. Simple, right?

I don't think so.

Obtaining a Windows refund has nothing to do with software or greedy license agreements. It's a test of the human spirit. In this installment of Descent into Microsoft, I describe how my Windows Refund adventure brought me face-to-face with the Microsoft Mafia and a leaked internal Microsoft memo untouched by Eric S. Raymond.

After all the excitement I described in Part One, I was quite sleepy. I wanted to watch the ten o'clock news, which, according to the promos, was going to show an investigative report on a scam being conducted by a local computer store. I fell asleep, however, much sooner, during the FOX show "When Beagles Attack III".

I was startled awake by loud banging on my apartment door. Groggily, I put on my robe and opened the door, nearly tripping over the stack of Microsoft promotional literature I had left on the floor after unpacking my new computer. Suddenly, two goons in suits rushed into my apartment and pinned me against my couch.

"We know that you are planning to obtain a Windows refund," one goon said menacingly.
"Uh... wha... how do you know...?" I stuttered, now wide awake.
"Bill's not happy," the second goon stated.
"Uh..."
"When Bill's not happy, we're not happy. We need to, ah, rectify this little situation. Resistance, of course, is fut..."
"But... but..."

One goon reached into his pocket and produced a bug-like metal creature, which he flicked at my head. Before I was able to react, the bug attached itself to the base of my skull. Horrified, I watched as the Windows 98 splash screen and Microsoft logo flashed before my eyes. By the time I heard the annoying chime of the Windows boot procedure, I had lost all volition. I had been assimilated.

My voice, now under complete control of the Microsoft Borg, chanted monotonously, "I hereby accept the Microsoft Windows 98 (registered trademark) End-User License Agreement. I will not attempt to return my copy of Windows 98, nor will I invalidate the warranty on my CompUSSR computer by installing Linux on it." I involuntarily spat while uttering "Linux". "All hail Microsoft President William H. Gates III," my voice added.

Now that I had been re-programmed, I no longer cared about obtaining a refund. Or installing Linux. Or working for a Linux humor publication. Or climbing Mt. Everest. I was content with the colorful icons and Dancing Paper Clips in my head. An endless game of Solitaire started to unfold before my eyes. I was happy.

Then, one of the nice Microsoft employees said, "Alright, Mr. Splatz, our work here is complete..." The other employee interrupted. "I'm receiving a transmission from HQ... Cairo Team, report to Albuquerque immediately, code 45 in progress..." The first responded, "Mongo, let's roll. Yet another foolish Linux longhair is deleting Windows 98 from his new computer..."

As the Microsoft visitors were leaving, the words "SOLITAIRE has performed an illegal operation and will be shut down" passed before my eyes. I began to lose to consciousness...

Suddenly, I awoke to the sound of squealing tires, my heart beating faster than it has ever had in my life. It was all a terrible dream. I hadn't been confronted by the Microsoft Mafia. I hadn't been assimilated. I was still Jon Splatz, future Linux user and Windows-free pundit and social commentator. I fell back asleep, now more resolved than ever to break the shackles binding me to Microsoft.

After waking up and finishing my normal morning routine, I sat down to collect myself and make plans. I needed to: (a) contact CompUSSR about my Windows refund, (b) acquire, install, and learn how to use Linux, and, eventually, (c) find a job as a pundit for a publication that actually pays a salary (unlike Humorix).

I decided against visiting CompUSSR in person. My previous experiences had been less than pleasant; I figured I could avoid the trouble of dealing with Mikhail and Yuri if I called CompUSSR headquarters in Moscow, Idaho directly.

"Welcome to the CompUSSR Customer Service Hotline. Please select your preferred language. For Russian, press 1. For German, press 2. For Czech, press 3..." After a dizzying list of world languages, the automated voice finally made it to English. "For English, New England dialect, press 56. For English, Southern dialect, press 57. For English, African-American dialect, press 58. For English, Elbonian-American dialect, press 59." Frustrated, I finally dialed 68 for "English, generic dialect".

The automated phone system continued. "To better service your call, please select which operating system you presently have installed on your CompUSSR computer. For stock Windows 95, press 1. For Windows 95 OSR2, press 2. For Windows 95 OSR2 plus Internet Explorer 4.0, press 3. For Windows NT 3.51 or lower, press 4. For Windows 3.1 with Pen Extensions, press 5..." While the automated system listed every operating system ever produced by Microsoft, I made myself a cup of coffee. Eventually, the machine at the other end of the line said, "For Windows 98, press 37."

After about ten minutes of wrangling with the CompUSSR phone system, I finally reached their main menu. "If you wish to access CompUSSR's $35/hour technical support line, press 1. To request a free CompUSSR catalog, press 2..." The automated voice droned on with several dozen options. "...For a complimentary copy of CompUSSR's stock prospectus, press 34. To speak with a live operator, press 35..."

Finally! I dialed 35, and waited. "Sorry, but due to budget constraints, we no longer employ live phone operators. To speak with our experimental artificial intelligence program called Stalin II, press 0, otherwise select an option from the main menu. If you wish to access..."

The phone drone began to repeat the endless list of options. Just about every option imaginable was available by pressing the right numbers, except, of course, information on obtaining a refund. I decided to bite the bullet and try the CompUSSR AI program.

"Welcome to Stalin II, The CompUSSR Cost-Cutting Electronic Phone Operator. How may I help you?"
"I'd like information on obtaining a refund for Windows 98..."
"Official CompUSSR policy prohibits refunds or exchanges of any kind," the AI voice said after a noticeable delay.
"The Windows End User License Agreement states that I may obtain a refund if I do not accept the license."
"Official CompUSSR policy prohibits refunds or exchanges of any kind."
"But I don't accept the license. I'm legally entitled to a refund..."
"Processing..." the voice chimed. "CompUSSR is not responsible for the enforcement of the Microsoft End User License Agreement."
"But who is...?"
"That information is unavailable."
"I want my refund!" I screamed into the receiver.
"Official CompUSSR policy prohibits refunds or exchanges of any kind."
"Can I speak with a live person?"
"That information is unavailable."
"Huh?"
"Your alloted time has expired. Please call again later. Have a nice day."

I was disconnected from the CompUSSR hotline. I had hit a dead end. A huge snow drift prevented me from proceeding higher up the mountain; I had to turn back and find another path to the summit. I thought about calling the local CompUSSR chain, even though I loathed the thought of dealing with Mikhail and his cronies again.

About this time, the phone rang. It was James Baughn, my boss.
"I've got a story assignment for you, Splatz," he started.
"What?" I asked. Pundits aren't supposed to do any field work.
"I want you to attend a Windows Refund rally on Monday."
"What?" I asked again. I didn't know what he was talking about.
"Go to the Microsoft offices in Foster City, California. That's where the main refund rally is supposed to be."
"What?" I was still confused. What rally? What Windows refunds? Did this fit into my present endeavor somehow?
"I'll pay your expenses."
Hot dog! "Okay, I'll do it. Now explain to me what this whole refund rally is about. I haven't heard anything about it.
"You need to read Slashdot more often," Baughn responded, before providing a full explanation.

Why hadn't I heard about the Windows Refund Day earlier? I stopped to consider the irony in my situation. I had started to climb Mt. Everest alone, blissfully unaware that a whole army of climbers were ascending the mountain from the other side. Strength in numbers is important, especially against an opponent like Mt. Everest or Microsoft.

Well, I thought, everything would work out in the end. I had been giving an opportunity to teleport to the other side of the mountain, where I would meet up with the other climbers. From there, reaching the summit would be much simpler. I would drive to Foster City and attend the Windows refund rally with my comrades.

While I was looking over my dog-eared Rand McNally map, trying to locate Foster City, my fax machine began to receive a transmission. It was from one of the anonymous sources I had relied on while working at ColdWired. He apparently hadn't found out I had been fired. His fax contained a leaked internal Microsoft document he had managed to obtain from one of his contacts, who, in turn, had obtained it from a friend who works as a janitor at Microsoft.

This document, which my source had dubbed "The President's Day Document", analyzes the Windows Refund Day from the perspective of a Microsoft junior executive. Top Microsoft executives seemed to be the target audience of the memo.

I wondered if the document had also been leaked to Eric S. Raymond. If it had, it wouldn't be long before it appeared on the Web under the name "Halloween V". Then again, ESR might be too busy playing with the new guns he received for Christmas to worry about yet another leaked memo.

Since this document is quite interesting, and, of course, quite applicable to my endeavor, I've attached a few excerpts below:


"This whole refund brouhaha started after a posting on the 'News for Nerds' Slashdot.org website. From that, a group of anti-Microsoft zealots organized the Windows Refund Day... Since then, the movement has snowballed, gaining mainstream media coverage...

Observation: The fact that this 'campaign' has gained so much attention, and has snowballed so rapidly, is obvious evidence that Microsoft does not hold a monopoly of the operating system market. In court, we should point out that the refund campaign wouldn't be possible unless a significant number of people have access to alternative software and don't need Windows. Ergo, no monopoly. We win, Ralph Nader can kiss our billion-dollar butts, end of story.

...

How should Microsoft respond to this brouhaha?

Our standard approach of ignoring it and then downplaying the importance ("Crazed Unix zealots are exploiting a loophole in the license... So what?") has worked so far, but can't for much longer. With President's Day imminent, and media coverage increasing (international, now), we'll have to be more crafty.

...

We have an ace up our sleeves, ready to be played the weekend before President's Day. We simply announce that all Microsoft offices will be closed on February 15th in observance of President's Day -- Microsoft President Bill Gates Day, that is. This will put a damper on the rallies. There won't be anybody for them to protest against, because we'll all be at home, enjoying a rare day off.

Another possibility is to stage our own rally. We could assign low-level Microsoft employees to hold "Linux Refund" rallies at the offices of companies that sell Linux software or computers. Of course, this would follow the Astroturf system; we would make it appear that the protests were grassroots movements initiated by Windows users.

Some actual credible arguments could be made for Linux refunds. One Microsoft engineer I talked to described the difficulties he had removing an unwanted copy of Linux that came pre-installed with a system he mistakenly purchased from a computer reseller called Linguin, Inc. Since Linux comes with no EULA, so there was no obligation for the company to offer a refund. In addition, he had much difficulty removing the Linux booter loader, LILO, from his hard drive.

...

As a last resort, we could have all the protestors arrested for trespassing on Microsoft property. Or, we could argue that the "refund" in the EULA doesn't refer to the software, but to the printing and distribution costs of the license itself (about ten cents). Pieces of paper don't print themselves, you know...


(James Baughn, Humorix editor, didn't want me to publish these excerpts, arguing that a reputable publication like Humorix doesn't print unsubstantiated rumors and leaked documents. After breaking into a fit of hysterics, I calmly pointed out that just about every Humorix article ever written has been based on anonymous sources and rumors. Baughn quickly capitulated.)

Fate must have been smiling on me that day. Not only did I learn about the Windows Refund campaign, but I also learned of Microsoft's secret plans for the event. It was my destiny to attend one of the rallies on Monday. Alongside fellow climbers, we would overcome all obstacles and reach the summit of Mt. Everest.

Unfortunately, I didn't know about the dangerous avalanche about to come crashing down the mountain.

Return soon for Part 3 of Descent info Microsoft...

Contact me at jonsplatz [at] i-want-a-website [dot] com

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