Bill Gates is an alien. His home planet is called Microsoft and it's located somewhere in another galaxy. The words of a crazy man, you say. But wait, I'll prove it, dear reader if you'll but let me.
The Internet Explorer (IE) files were opened back in December 1995 when Gates announced Microsoft's decision not to ignore the Internet thingy after all (I remember it well, I was sitting in some swish London hotel with a hundred or so other sad hacks watching a live big screen satellite link of the whole affair). Ever since that day they've been slowly planning the network revolution. It started with Internet Explorer, a harmless enough competitor in an otherwise pretty competitorless Web browser market. It continued with the Microsoft Network, a content-driven online service in a cyberspace full of content-driven online services. And it has turned into an obsession that will only be satisfied when each of us is using a Net PC or a Windows terminal connected to the Microsoft patented Internet.
Along the way, Internet Explorer has become less of a browser and more part of an OS - indeed, IE 4 is essentially a stepping stone to Memphis and the future of the Windows OS. The "active desktop" is upon us, and the day when your PC attempts to connect to the outside world every 10 minutes to check if it's still there is no longer a bad dream: IE 4 and Memphis make it a reality.
This kind of philosophy, "the network is the PC - the PC is the network", is fine if you're a corporate user connecting through the corporate LAN. It's not too bad if you're a North American resident used to phone calls charged at a rate that would give BT a seizure. But it's as much use as a one-legged man at an arse-kicking party if you're a poor old average British chappy, whose Internet connection comes courtesy of an overpriced plastic and silicon 28.8K egg box and some twisted copper wires that should be solid gold for the money we're forced to pay.
Recently in Seattle, Microsoft held an IE 4 "technical reviewer's workshop" which was a cross between a shoe convention and an evangelical meeting for the church of technology. All hail the boy God. Speaker after speaker from the planet Microsoft spoke about the one true way, the active desktop way. Just like the bloke with the bad haircut in The Invasion of the Body Snatchers I spoke out for human kind. "What about the dangers of ActiveX?" I cried. IE 4 has security zones, so you can effectively switch it off they assured. But the whole point of IE 4 is that you get this interactivity, this desktop activity, that's made possible by the wonders of ActiveX. Switch it off, you get diddly squat - leave it on, the alien forces can gather. Watch out for that "invade.dll" control coming soon to a desktop near you.
But seriously though, it's all getting out of hand isn't it? I'm not sure I want the Web and my PC to merge in some twisted bastardised union of cyberspace and silicon. I quite like keeping the Internet as a separate entity, one that I can call upon when required as I do my wordprocessor, my spreadsheet, my wife. The warning signs have been coming for some time now, every new release of Web browser has got ever bigger, ever more bloated, ever more removed from the small and efficient applications they used to be. With the eventual merger of machine and cyberspace I'm concerned that we, the computer using public, will lose more than we gain. If you've never read Neuromancer by William Gibson, perhaps now's the time to do so. At least you'll be slightly better prepared for the alien invasion then.
It goes to show ... Microsoft are aliens. Consider the evidence:
-Microsoft's global headquarters is located just outside Seattle in a sprawling, Area 51-like complex known as "the campus". Obviously an illusion created by a superior intelligence, with its glass and concrete waterfalls and grass that never grows.
-Microsoft's UK operation is based near Reading in a giant glass pyramid that contains abnormally large potted plants of a kind not seen on this planet.
-Microsoft inhabitants do not dress as we do. Their leaders are distinguished by their light fawn Chinos, while the worker drones favour baggy shorts and sneakers.
-Microsoft conference speakers have their own language, where customising your desktop becomes "using my real estate in a different way".
-Gates is the richest man on the planet - a good sign of an alien, that one.
Davey Winder ([email protected]) is the BT Technology Journalist of the Year.
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