Thursday, August 21, 2003

Misdirection Play

The recent brouhaha over the MSBlaster worm shows the basic misdirection that Microsoft has played upon us all. A large part of the subject matter illuminated in this space regards misdirection, or what I like to call the "The Emperor Has No Clothes" theory of human events. We are a species of (predominately) sheeple who follow the crowd, and are usually united in our misapplication of the facts. The "common knowledge" is almost always wrong, as I (and others) like to point out. And, what with the perfection of public relations theory and advertising technology, those who would lead the populace astray, and cause us to believe a falsehood, have some very effective tools to make that happen. Such is the case with Microsoft, and, in particular, the popular misapprehension of their response to the MSBlaster worm.

We are told that their (Microsoft's) response to the threat shows us what a great, on the job company they are. The fact that this problem only arises because MS sold us all a faulty piece of software in the first place is forgotten. This is a classic case of misdirection: look at their response, and fail to notice the cause. During the recent anti-trust trial of MS, we were first told that Windows was not a monopoly, and then, when that "fact" became untenable, we were told that this monopoly was a good thing for us, that the prevalence of this single operating system made it possible for a much larger number of software designers to concentrate on coding Windows products. We are not supposed to notice that there has not been a really cool software product released in the last half decade. We are certainly not supposed to notice that all of our computers are so much more vulnerable to virus and worm attacks than they were before we all standardised on Windows.

The truth is that this very standardization on a single operating system is a very bad thing. It makes for a very easy target for those who would do us harm. Why do you think that there are no Linux worms? Not because Linux is a more secure environment (although it is) but because there are so (relatively) few Linux boxes to attack. Why do you think there is no genuinely interesting software being written any more? Because the market for Windows software is so huge, and Microsoft is so powerful (and voracious) that any truly successful new product is bulldozed out of existence when a less useful, but "free", version appears in the next iteration of Windows.

We need to break out of the mold that we are expected to fit into. Or at least, that is the way I see it. I don't know how this can happen, but if we as a people do not make more effort to become more individual, the overwhelming power of the herd instinct, combined with the tools available to the government and large corporations that induce us to follow the crowd, will combine to make things only get worse. Readers of this blog are less exposed than most others, but we must all take steps to break out of that mold. Buy a Linux distro and install it on one of your old computers that is gathering dust in your garage. Watch CSPAN instead of a sit-com. And read, read, read.