Join the Club

Almost everyone would be familiar with the old 'If Microsoft Built Cars' list - it's been around since Bill Gates was only third on the "World's Richest" list, but just in case you've been living in a cave for the last ten years, here's one version of it:


  • Every time they repainted the lines on the road you would have to buy a new car.
  • Occasionally your car would die on the freeway for no reason, and you would just accept this, restart and drive on.
  • Occasionally, executing a maneuver would cause your car to stop and fail and you would have to re-install the engine. For some strange reason, you would accept this too.
  • You could only have one person in the car at a time, unless you bought "Car95" or "CarNT". But, then you would have to buy more seats.
  • Macintosh would make a car that was powered by the sun, was reliable, five times as fast, twice as easy to drive - but would only run on 5 percent of the roads.
  • The Macintosh car owners would get expensive Microsoft upgrades to their cars, which would make their cars run much slower.
  • The oil, gas and alternator warning lights would be replaced by a single "general car default" warning light.
  • New seats would force everyone to have the same size butt.
  • The airbag system would say "are you sure?" before going off.
  • If you were involved in a crash, you would have no idea what happened.


(Actually, totally off-topic and completely sideways, the advent of XP prompts me to add a line to the above - indulge me...

  • You'd have to ask Microsoft's permission before you could drive it).
The observation to note in all of this is that we accept failings in software (and computers generally) that we'd never put up with in other areas of our lives. We'd be on the phone to the manufacturer the very first time our expensive new TV rebooted itself, and any motor vehicle that behaved like the fictional Microsoft beast would have us in fits.

Now, imagine this scenario:

You've heard that there's a really excellent game being produced by the guys in the shop down the road - you've seen the pictures, heard about the plot and it sounds like just the thing for you, so you go down the road to investigate...

The guy behind the counter is friendly enough, but all he tells you is that it's due for release in about a year, and suggests you join the club that meets every night in the back room. You get the general impression that this is a great idea because you'll be right on the spot to know what's going down, be the first to know of developments and be able to swap ideas and fantasies with like-minded people, so you join the club.

After a while you notice that the coffee hasn't been topped up in about a month and the uneaten biscuits are getting a bit mouldy, so you leave a note pinned to the cork board that's been provided for such things...

Two months pass, and the note is still there - and so is the empty coffee perk (although suspicious small noises inside it suggest that it might not be *completely* empty, but you'd rather not investigate that right now), and the mice have made off with the last of the biscuits. But what really hits you on this particular night is the note on the front door that you'd never been bored enough to read before. It says "Happy New Year to all our Members". Nice thought, but it's now June.

Not for one moment do you consider that anything might be wrong with this picture. The lack of fresh coffee and biscuits doesn't bother you at all. You don't worry that you haven't seen a staff member for six weeks, or that none of the questions written on the notes on the corkboard have elicted a response. The only possible cause of worry is whether or not the large furry eight-legged beast that's taken up residence in the darkest corner of the clubroom is nesting in those bagpipes or thinking of taking up playing them.

Two months later, a staff member pops in, pins a couple of replies on the corkboard and pops back out again. Everyone in the room goes completely potty, fawning and fainting and asking for an autograph and saying 'Thank You, Thank You' over and over and over again. It's now August, but 'Happy New Year' is still on the front door.

Whatever lives in the coffee pot is obviously breeding, the hairy eight-legged beastie in the corner is getting quite good at playing Loch Lomond and there's still no biscuits. But we're all happy, for we now know there may or may not be joystick support.

Yeah, right.

More likely there would have been rebellion in the ranks after a week if it was the face-to-face picture I've tried to paint above - but for some unknown reason we tolerate and accept things in cyberspace that would drive us crazy in person; why do emails go unanswered when a telephone will always be picked up and answered - even if the person being called is in the middle of doing something else?

What makes a web page so much less of a front door than a physical one when it's likely that it'll get much more traffic going through it?

The Bottom Line:

If we truly think the future of commerce, communications and service lies with this medium, why do we not treat it with the respect it deserves? Is it really because we still have trouble believing there's a real live person typing these words?

Back to Index (for this columnist)