George Orwell's 1984 taught us several valuable concepts besides the usual "Big Brother" we've all come to know and love. It was such a hot seller not because it was brilliant and prophetic, but because it rolled up its sleeves and dug down into that delicious conspiratorial, things-are-not-how-they-seem kind of theories that has also made the X-Files such a rousing success too. People want to believe that there's something sinister The Man doesn't want you to know, not because they fear the loss of freedom in a dictatorship state, but because it tickles our sense of curiosity and flatters ourselves at the same time. "Ooohh! I'm not taken in by the non-news they try to push on me every night at 6 'o clock on the TV, I'm one of the special ones who knows its all a conspiracy to hide the real truth!"
But you've been caught at the same time you thought you were breaking free. Instead of really looking for the truth, you get mixed up in nonsense about little green men at Roswell, Area 51 and browser cookies. All a load of misplaced paranoia that efficiently wastes your time. If I was the government and I really wanted to cover up my ugliest secrets, I'd encourage TV shows like the X-Files. A brand new wild goose chase every week! How about that? And take Bob Dylan, he spends his entire career singing "Down with The Man!", and then he gets a Lifetime Achievement Award from none other than The Man himself - rendering everything he's ever sung about irrelevant. What a stroke of genius!
In the book 1984 this trick was used too, but there was no Bob Dylan type rebel to embrace there, so Big Brother had to invent one called Emanuel Goldstien. Mr. Goldstein was a manufactured public enemy, the leader of a fictional underground movement, a perfect snare to trap anyone like poor Winston who thought he was righteous enough to stand against the rule of the dictatorship. Fortunately for our modern day Big Brother, Microsoft, they didn't have to invent a Goldstein; he presented himself one day when he posted his manifesto to the Internet and called his movement the Free Software Foundation.
The Free Software Foundation is absolutely perfect for Microsoft. Here you have a loose confederation of rebel hackers chasing after an idealistic cause that is just radical enough to fly. And all Microsoft has to do is preempt them at the last minute with a Redmonian act of Embrace And Extend. They'll release Windows under a modified GNU license and all of a sudden the FSF doesn't matter anymore. Poof goes Netscape's advantage. Poof goes the rebellion as hackers worldwide have to admit that Microsoft has done the honorable thing. And poof go all those security holes as Microsoft inherits the fantastic bug-crunching power of peer review.
Of course by this time it'll be too late to claim victory for Free software, because Microsoft will have a very firm grip on the distribution channels as well as a very special clause in the license which forces PC vendors to pay for the OS they install on each machine, even though its source code is downloadable for free. Hey, vendors are using the OS to add value to a product they're selling for profit, Microsoft would be completely and morally justified in asking for a remittance of $50 or so per machine. Plus, 99% of all software is written to the Windows API, so what else are they going to bundle? Microsoft has the lawyer-power to chase down any company that selfishly takes advantage of Microsoft's generosity.
So think about that next time you read Mother Jones or snicker quietly at the insider knowledge you found at Slashdot. Because while I just spent five minutes of your time ridiculing the whole concept of silly crackpot conspiracy theories, I just slipped one of my own right under your nose. I gotcha, didn't I?
Heard any good ones lately? The Man ever arrive on your doorstep to take your computer away? Join the OS/2 Illuminati right here in our Hypernews forum and we'll rule the world.
Chris Wenham is the Senior Editor of OS/2 e-Zine! -- a promotion from Assistant Editor which means his parking spot will now be wide enough to keep his bicycle and a trailer.
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