Descent into Microsoft (Part 3)

Fake News written by Jon Splatz on Thursday, February 25, 1999

from the Dear-Valued-Customer dept.

10 PRINT "HELLO WORLD"
20 GOTO 40
30 GOTO 10
40 GOTO 30

I feel like I'm stuck in a hideous GW-BASIC program written by some snot-nosed eight year old. I can't get anywhere, I'm surrounded by GOTOs. I'm trapped in an infinite loop, unable to free myself from the savage nature of Murphy's Law. Will I ever finish my odyssey to obtain a Windows refund? I'm beginning to have my doubts.

In Part 2, I described my plans to attend the Windows Refund Day rally at the Microsoft offices in Foster City, CA. I thought (erroneously) that this would be the moment of triumph; I would obtain my Windows refund once and for all.

I should have known better. When Microsoft is involved, things never work out right.

My adventures began on Sunday, when I checked into the "El Raton Grande" motel, a few miles away from the Microsoft offices. I don't speak much Spanish, but I do know that "grande" means "big". Indeed, this motel was a big ripoff. The water was opaque with mud, the mattress felt like it had been produced in 1950, and the ceiling light flashed off and on every few minutes in a strangely hypnotic pattern.

I had trouble sleeping that night. A buzzing and flickering neon sign outside my window prevented me from falling asleep. Frustrated, I shut the drapes over the window. I discovered that some of the ink on the drapes had rubbed off onto my hands. I tried to wash my hands, but the muddy water from the faucet only made my hands dirtier.

The room only had one small towel in it, which had the words "Property of Holiday Inn" written on it in big letters. After some effort, I was able to clean off most of the muck from my hands.

I knew that I wasn't going to be taking a shower or brushing my teeth in the morning.

I suppose I can't complain too much, however, since Humorix was paying the expenses for my trip. I just wish James Baughn wasn't so stingy.

[Editor's Note: Most Humorix field reporters are only given a bus ticket and a trash bag to use as a tent. Splatz should consider himself lucky.]

The next day, Monday, was the First Annual Windows Refund Day. Since no refunds were distributed, next year will likely contain a Second Annual Windows Refund Day.

Wanting to vacate the motel as soon as possible, I frantically dressed and packed up my baggage. The fact that I saw several large rats behind my bed contributed to my haste.

I drove over to the Foster City Microsoft office compound, stopping at a city park along the way to wash off my hands at a fountain.

When I arrived, I spotted a crowd of anxious news reporters and TV crews -- but no refund-demanding Linux geeks. I didn't see any Unix zealots waving "I'm Pro-Choice!" or "Linux Rules!" signs.

After spotting me, the herd of reporters pushed and shoved towards me, screaming questions and flashing pictures. Instead of asking me about the Refund Day, they bombarded me with computer questions, hoping to get free technical support from a geek.

"My palm pilot just crashed... Can you help me?" one insisted. "At home, my computer makes this whirring sound and the hard drive-thingy goes chooka, chooka, chooka... Do you think this is bad?" another asked. "How should I prepare for Y2K?" a TV correspondent asked.

Finally, a few members of the media asked more relevant questions.

"I've heard a lot about 'open source software'... How is opening a source different than opening a window?" Before I could get a word in edgewise, yet another reporter posed, "Who is this Colonel Linux I've heard so much about, and what military branch does he serve in? Is he responsible for organizing the refund campaign? Is the Linux operation system named after this colonel? One more thing... you can run Microsoft Windows in Linux, right? What about Office?"

I was getting quite frustrated, and wanted badly to yell "Shut the HELL up!" I kept my cool, though. I, Jon Splatz, the enlightened Humorix pundit and social commentator, was surrounded by a mob of clueless, vapid members of the media. It was my duty, I told myself, to educate these people. Getting angry wasn't going to help, I had to calmly explain what the Windows Refund campaign was all about.

Before the next inane question could be posed, I quickly began my spiel. "You probably all have lots of questions about this event and why you're here. Let me try to explain. Several thousand people worldwide are fed up with the lack of quality and freedom of Microsoft software. A group of programmers have created their own alternative software -- based on 'Open Source'. The details are hard to explain, but this group values free beer, free peanuts, and free speech. In particular, free speech is essential because, since most nerds are socially inept, they need spokesman to communicate to the rest of society for them. Free speech is thus very important, but it is something not offered by Microsoft..."

I continued my speech, trying to educate the crowd of ignorant reporters. I thought it was quite a nice impromptu speech. I was able to succintly cover the differences between Cathedral and Flea Market design methodologies, the history of the GUN Project and Richard M. Stallman, and the fact that boxes of Red Hat Linux are available for free at many computer stores.

Unfortunately, all the journalists lost interest in my speech after a couple minutes, and they began to chatter among themselves.

"Stupid story assignments," one reporter mumbled to a colleague, "I could be reporting on the swimsuit models photo shoot, but instead I'm here covering some idiotic nerd revolution involving exactly ONE person. I really need to get out of this business..."

I heard one TV cameraman say, "Hey, Bob, did you hear about the latest Internet Explorer collectible CD Microsoft has released? It features Steve Ballmer." Another replied, "That's nothing. I just picked up a limited edition 'Vigilante DoJ Investigation' IE CD-ROM, featuring a "Who Does Janet Reno Want To Sue Today?" soundtrack.

As the news reporters chattered among themselves, I wondered if my trip to Foster City had been a waste. It didn't look like I would be obtaining a Windows refund today. GOTO 40.

However, the situation suddenly reversed itself. The geeks showed up.

Led by Eric "Obi-Wan" Raymond, a shabby group of Linux geeks holding protest signs and wearing jeans and T-shirts marched towards the parking garage. The photagraphers started snapping pictures, and the reporters began to frantically take notes.

"Now there's something you don't see everyday," one reporter boasted to a colleague as he showed a coveted special issue Nathan Myrrhvold Internet Explorer CD. Looking up, he exclaimed, "Whoa! What's with all the commotion? Did I miss something?"

The small group of protestors climbed up to the top of the parking garage. They chanted protest songs, but I couldn't make out any of the words except for an occasional "Linux" or "GNU/Linux". I found out later that Richard Stallman had specially requested that the protestors say "GNU/Linux", but many refused, causing the chant to be uncoordinated. It sounded terrible.

Meanwhile, I heard strange shuffling sounds from behind me. I turned around to face a large staff of Microserfs frantically preparing for the confrontation with the Linux brigade. They had put up a large "Microsoft Welcomes the Linux Zealot Community" banner and erected tables with refreshments and stacks of Microsoft promotional literature.

It appeared that Microsoft had prepared. They were ready for the Windows Refund Day protestors.

And they were ready for me, Jon Splatz. While the reporters were busy reporting, and the refund protestors were busy protesting, a Microsoft employee came up to me and said ominously, "Valued Customer Splatz, please follow me."

Unnoticed by the others, I followed the Microserf into the office compound. In hindsight, it may have been foolish of me to follow blindly. I acted on impulse. Heart racing and face sweating profusely, I entered into the unknown world of Microsoft.

It was then that I had the most disturbing thought of my life. I remembered the dream I had from a few days before, in which two Microsoft goons busted into my apartment and "assimilated" me. Was it really a dream? Was I actually under the control of Microsoft? Was my blind obedience to this Microserf -- who somehow knew my name -- the result of my induction into the Microsoft collective? Was I about to undergo the first session of re-education?

No, it couldn't be. If I was truly under the spell of Microsoft, I wouldn't be having these thoughts. I wouldn't be aware of my assimilation. It must have been a dream. I was Jon Splatz, Humorix pundit and social commentator, not Thirteen-of-Zero, Microsoft Borg drone.

Or was I? My mind was in a state of disarray. My mind had bluescreened.

I followed the Microserf through a maze of hallways, and into a stairwell at the far back of the building. I became winded after we climbed to about the fifth floor. "We must continue climbing," the Microserf said monotonously. He added, "The elevator isn't working. It won't go to the top floor. Rest assured, Microsoft support teams are working on the problem and should have a fix within the next week."

Once we reached the top of the stairs, he led me through another series of hallways, until we came to an office. Another Microsoft employee was sitting behind a desk, waiting for my arrival. "Please sit down, Valued Customer Splatz," he prompted. "Good work, Jay. You can go," he said to the first Microserf.

I sat down and looked around the Microserf's office nervously. Was that a copy of Red Hat Linux tucked away in the corner? It couldn't be.

He then handed me a business card. It had a picture of the Earth with a penguin sitting contentedly on top. "WORLD," it said. "WORLD Organizes Rapid Linux Domination."

"What the h...?" I tried to exclaim, before the Microserf interrupted me with "Linux is futile!" and motioned me to be quiet. He then took the business card from my hands and scribbled a brief note on it, "This room is bugged by Microsoft drones... don't say anything suspicious... PLAY ALONG... it's vitally important!!!"

My mind had bluescreened again. What was happening? I felt like I was trapped in some cliche spy movie. I never liked movies about espionage, not only could I never keep track of the characters and the plots, but they never seemed realistic.

And yet, in a small Microsoft office in Foster City, California, I had stumbled on to some kind of spy ring involving Linux. Was I closer to my goal of obtaining a Windows refund?

"Unfortunately, Customer Splatz," he began, "we can't give you a Windows refund. You'll have to take this up with the Customer Financial Affairs Department in Redmond."

Apparently not. My quest would continue, I was still trapped in the infinite loop. GOTO 30.

Unless, I thought, this was all a ruse, something to placate the faceless Microserfs listening in on this office.

"Do you think the Customer Affairs department would give me a refund?" I asked, playing along.

"Probably not. Still, you might be able to find out some important information at their website. Here, let me write down the address for you..."

He wrote down the address on a Microsoft business card, which he then handed to me. The address he wrote certainly wasn't for a Microsoft department -- it was a numeric IP address, followed by several levels of directories. Underneath he scribbled what looked like a username and password.

"Sorry that I can't assist you further, Customer Splatz. I have to be downstairs in ten minutes to hand out 'Dear Valued Customer' letters to the group of Valued Customers who are, ah, expressing themselves outside. I trust you can find your way back out, right? Or should I call Jay to escort you?"

"Uh, I'll find my way out..." I responded, still bewildered by the situation.

"Oh, one last thing. Company policy dictates that we make sure that all our Valued Customers have the latest collectible Internet Explorer CD." He unlocked his desk drawer and pulled out two CD-ROMs, which he quickly handed to me. "Please take them," he said, before ushering me out of his office.

My first meeting with a real life Microserf was over. I still didn't have my refund, but I had picked up some clues: two CDs and a mysterious website address. I was still in the endless loop, but I had encountered an undocumented instruction that might help me.

My mind busy pondering the events that had just transpired, I quickly became lost in the Microsoft office complex. I asked a passing employee where I was. Without stopping, he said, "You are in a hallway," and then he scurried off.

"You are in a hallway" sounded a lot like my present situation. I could see the immediate surroundings, but I didn't know what was ahead of me. I didn't know where this hallway would lead me. I didn't know if I would obtain my Windows refund, nor did I know what events awaited me in the future. I didn't know what was contained on the two CDs or the website address the Microserf handed me. I was clueless, trapped in a Microsoft office complex and trapped in an endeavor that may never come to fruition.

GOTO 10, I thought.

It took me about 30 minutes, but I finally found the stairwell leading to the exit. Unfortunately, by the time I made it back outside and over to the parking garage, the refund protestors and the news reporters had all disbanded and left. The First Annual Windows Refund Day was over.

Driving home, I began to think about my adventure so far. I never realized that my Windows refund odyssey would be such a hassle. I wondered if climbers about to ascend Mt. Everest truly realize just how far it is to the summit. I certainly underestimated the amount of effort it would require to obtain a Windows refund.

With all the hardship, though, my story was making an excellent series of articles for Humorix.

And then it hit me.

When my odyssey was finally over, I would have enough material for a book. A list of possible book titles raced through my mind. "Battling Redmond: The Jon Splatz Adventure". "I Don't Pay Bills". "Shutting Windows and Closing Gates". "Into Thinning Hair: The Undocumented Story of One Man's Triumph Over Microsoft".

I could then run excerpts of my books on Humorix, along with a link to Amazon where visitors could instantly buy the book. I would thumb my nose at the publishing establishment. My book would become a success through grass-roots support from the geek community!

I would make publishing history!

But first, I thought, I have to obtain my Windows refund. I had to make it to the top of Mt. Everest before I could write a book about the climb. I had to exit the infinite loop before I could move on.

Get ready, Microsoft, Jon Splatz is coming.

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