Smoke and Microsoft

March 9, 2011

Ms Charl Everton, Microsoft’s anti-piracy manager, says that running a pirated copy of Windows is tantamount to gun running, human trafficking and drug dealing. The same was said recently in a series of radio advertisements by British American Tobacco with regards to buying smuggled cigarettes.

Let’s examine these statements with a jaundiced, sceptical eye.

Microsoft is a mega-corporation that has been found guilty in both the European Union and the USA of anti-competitive behaviour, but this doesn’t mean it’s OK to buy counterfeit MS products. It doesn’t mean that those who pirate their products are rapists or genocidal megalomaniacs, either. We won’t go into the argument of whether or not the pirating of a software product is stealing; we’ll just accept for the purposes of argument that it is in some sense wrong, like copyright infringement.

The same can be said of smoking smuggled cigarettes—the smoker is depriving the national fiscus of the tax revenue that would have accrued had the cigarettes been legally imported.

So why do Microsoft and BAT make these absurd statements? What do they have in common?

Well, both Microsoft and BAT have a terrible public image. Microsoft is perceived in many quarters to purvey an inferior product that consumers are forced to buy because of Microsoft’s stranglehold on the PC software market. If you don’t believe me, just try to purchase a laptop computer without some version of MS Windows infesting its hard drive.

The cigarette companies sell a product that is known to be harmful to all who partake of it, and is fatal to a significant proportion of them, yet most of their customers are powerless to cease purchasing the product because one of its constituents, nicotine, is one of the most addictive substances known to man.

So, in order to divert attention from their own moral shortcomings, the companies must paint those who trespass upon their intellectual property as worse than they themselves are. They don’t want people to think, “Gosh, I know pirating software or buying smuggled cigarettes is wrong, but these guys are scumbags; ripping them off is a actually a public service, so I’ll go ahead and do it, anyway.” They want you to equate intellectual property infringements or petty smuggling as somehow akin to child rape—unthinkable.

There are perfectly legal alternatives, though. I stopped smoking, thereby saving my health and a stack of money to boot. I decided I would rather write with a quill and calculate with an abacus rather than buy another Microsoft product; I discovered Linux, which is superior to MS Windows in every respect and that there is a free office suite, OpenOffice, which is just as good as MS office.

Don’t pirate Microsoft’s rubbish and don’t smoke BAT’s rubbish, smuggled or not. But don’t buy the crap they purvey, either, or the crap they say.

Creative Commons License
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License

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Computer con

March 1, 2011

There’s a very old joke which goes like this:

An English professor is enjoying extracurricular jollies with the wife of a colleague. He is atop the lady when her husband enters the room.
“I’m surprised,” exclaims the husband. “No, sir. I’m surprised. You are astonished,” says the professor.

Well, I’m both surprised and astonished at a scam that has been perpetrated in Ireland. Firstly, I’m surprised that anyone attempted this con because no sane criminal could possibly believe it would work. If someone came to me and said, “Hey Mark, I’ve had a brilliant idea for conning suckers out of their money. We take the Dublin phone book, right? Then we ring people up at random and say we’re from Microsoft and we have detected there’s something wrong with their computers. We tell them we can fix it online, but they must pay for a service contract. We get their credit card details and debit them say €100 or €200 and we don’t do a thing to their computers.”

“What do we say when they ask exactly what’s wrong with their computers?”

“We just make something up. Say their analogue navel rectifier’s got an exploit. Nobody who uses Windows knows anything about computers, anyway. If they sound really suspicious we just go into the wrong number routine.”

“Nah. Forget it. Nobody could be stupid enough to fall for something that obvious.”

But fall for it they did. In their droves. This is where the astonishment comes in. There are people who dress themselves in the morning and walk amongst us on their hind legs who are so stupid they would give out their credit card details over the telephone to strangers. A lot of them don’t even realise that they have been conned: they think there was an actual problem with their computers that the helpful folk at Microsoft have fixed for them.

Microsoft Ireland pay a person to be their ‘customer experience manager’. I would rather have the job of licking the mall toilets clean with my own tongue after a hot dog eating contest than fill that role, but it is filled by one Mary Ashe Winton, who has this to say:

Anyone who receives an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft should hang up. We do not make these type of calls, offering a technical support package.

Quite right, Mary. I hope Microsoft pay you top dollar in exchange for your rare gift of common sense.

Creative Commons License
Grumpy Old Man by Mark Widdicombe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License