At Large: A change of scene might help

At Large: A change of scene might help

What I'm about to say may shock and surprise many of you. Faint-hearted readers may wish to skip this column and go on to something else (Cringeley's a bit dull this week, but Livingston's Windows Manager is a couple of pages over and quite good). Perhaps you'd like to go get a drink to firm up your resolve and then come back to this - go ahead, I'll still be here.

All settled then? Here it is: the Microsoft antitrust thingy is still going. What's more, Microsoft says it's halfway through its defence. Halfway. Will this never end?

I must admit, the whole shebang had kind of dipped below my radar these last few weeks, what with all the commotion and fuss (don't ask me to explain, it's soooo complicated). With so much other stuff to focus on, I stopped reading the daily updates.

Then the US Senate decided to break with tradition and do something eminently sensible by acquitting Bill Clinton. Yes, he was sleazy and despicable, but no, these are not sufficient to disqualify someone from being US President. Fair enough, couldn't have said it better.

But with that seemingly endless distraction finally at an end, I got to thinking about other seemingly endless distractions. My first thought was that the MS/DoJ whatsit must surely have finished, and I was remiss in not knowing the outcome. So I went back and read all those daily updates.

Shocked, I was. Shocked and stunned. Shocked, stunned and dismayed. Tsk tsk, I said, attracting nearby kangaroos who thought it an attempt to communicate. (Don't ask why there were kangaroos in my office. As I told you, it's been a complicated few weeks).

I wasn't merely shocked by the fact that it's still rolling on, but by the amazingly inane way that it is doing so. I mean, this thing was supposed to be the tech trial of the century - you'd think they'd make it entertaining at least. It started well, if you recall. There were the amusing WWII role-playing games engaged in by Steve Case of AOL and Jim Barksdale of Netscape. There was Apple's Avie Tevanian and his baby-knifing fantasy. Fun, fun, fun.

Then her daddy took the t-bird away. Ever since the Government closed its case and Microsoft began its defence, the whole thing has been as dull as dishwater. Particularly dull dishwater, even. Like when you're doing the washing up after a rather dull party. That kind of dull.

The highlight has been the Linux angle. In a very short time Linus Torvalds has gone from "cult programmer" to "serious threat to Windows dominance", at least according to Microsoft. Before Microsoft started bleating about what Linux could do to it, the open source OS was popular with geeks. Now, thanks to the Microsoft marketing machine, Linux could blow Windows 2000 out of the water.

It all started with "the Halloween papers", Microsoft's eerily-monikered leaked documents which constitute the best-written explication of the advantages of Linux that I've read. Then Paul Maritz, who worked for Microsoft at the time of his testimony (he may not now), spent several days telling the court how easy it was to set up a server running Linux. So easy his child could do it, he complained. Clearly, this supports Microsoft's argument that restricting the company from crushing its competitors like so many cockroaches beneath its mighty feet will harm consumer interests: we can't have our children setting up servers, can we? Once we allow that kind of behaviour, we open the floodgates for all sorts of delinquent troubleshooting and SMTP configuration. Picture roaming gangs of nine-year-old IS administrators, and you'll know why Microsoft is afraid.

But aside from these brief moments of levity, Microsoft's defence seems to be trying to bore the industry into not caring what happens any more. The problem, clearly, is the US Government. These people couldn't make an impeachment trial interesting - even one with naughty bits. How can they be expected to make technology entertaining?

I suggest a change of venue. The Republic of Sao Tome and Principe (located in West Africa) has a notoriously sensible government, with a popularly elected president and a politically appointed prime minister (an example other countries may wish to follow). It may not be the tech capital of the world, but the exotic location would guarantee renewed interest in the case and therefore a vigorous defence by Microsoft.

Consider this a personal appeal from me to Tomean Prime Minister Raul Wagner Braganca Neto: step into the breach now, before an industry monster is created by sheer lack of interest.

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