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IRL: I was an Angry Young Man, once…


 

I normally don’t comment on Scoble’s posts – I just sponge from them – but this one really struck a chord, and it’s about time for a personal-ish blog (My content-to-personality quota feels about right). Try as I might, I just couldn’t stick to a topic, so it’s an autobiographical rambler. Sorry.

 

Darren (at 12+) sounds a lot like me at 17. I’d describe myself as an Angry Young Man at the time. Around then, I was busy dissing DOS and Windows 3.11, and M$ (pronounced ’em ta-ching’) was the Evil Empire. When Windows 95 was released, I actually went out and bought OS/2 Warp Connect 3.0, blue spine edition, so that I’d have A Better DOS than DOS, and A Better Windows than Windows. NT was still 3.5(1?) at the time, and I wasn’t really keen on the Win3x interface any more.

 

Why was Microsoft evil? I don’t really recall any more – most of my information came from the trade mags of the time, which I seem to recall were running stories like “UNIX is in your future – but which UNIX?”. The trade mags weren’t fans of Windows. They weren’t fans of DOS. They weren’t fans of Microsoft. They wrote, well – basically, what they thought. Often, there was a grudging “they’re rich, but…” at the start of any given positive article. Which was cool. And I absorbed it. I formed opinions about Chicago without ever actually having used it… Because I was an expert in my social circles, my opinion carried some weight, at least among my friends, and my opinion was their opinion. “Win95? Sure, you could, but it’ll be full of bugs. Tried OS/2?”

 

Before continuing, one thing I will say – once you got it installed*, the multitasking on OS/2 was amazing. Being able to format a floppy whilst playing the DOS version of Descent in a window without any appreciable slowdown just blew me away. But there were compatibility issues, and in the end, I found my OS2/Win environment crashed more often than my good ol’ DOS and 3.11 setup. So, reluctantly (cos I’d gone HPFS, plus I loved being able to give any folder a bitmap background), I went back to my productivity environment. After experimenting with several Fixpacks. Another story.

 

What changed my path? At the end of 1995, I needed a holiday job. I knew how to hand-tune Config.sys, Autoexec.bat, the DOS=HIGH stuff that so many games had taught me about, I knew not to run Memmaker, and had just figured out that my Windows networking experiments had gone so horribly wrong because terminators were required for BNC during the interview, so the outsourced partner hired me, and sent me on Windows 95 training.

 

Pretty early on, I realized I’d made a horrible error in judgement on Windows 95. It wasn’t as buggy as They Said. It didn’t try to spy for pirate software and report it back to Bill Gates as They Said. Formatting a floppy ground the rest of the system to a near-halt, but now I could at least have a stab at explaining why! Win95 was a reasonably good solution to a horrifically complex problem (compatible with the old, performant with the new). As my understanding deepened, I grew more embarrassed about my ignorant earlier posturing, and tried to help those folk in my circle of influence be successful with their PCs, and did (I think) a fairly good job of it.

 

Flash forward to today – I now work for Microsoft proper, not a partner. I’m a reasonably balanced advocate of our technology, our philosophy (when there is a collective consensus, at least – mine when there’s not), and a strong proponent of our Values. I’m not what I’d call a zealot, but I’ll usually assign benefit of the doubt to Microsoft in a cointoss. My viewpoint on our (and other) technologies is now mostly based on observation and on experience, not on what an expert  with their own agenda writes. And if there’s an overarching goal here that’s visible on the inside, it’s continuous improvement. The culture is about constantly raising every bar we can define.

 

To sum up: Get with the learning. It promotes understanding, which in turn promotes either happiness, or better arguments. And never, ever trust an expert.

 

Sigh. I’m so old, suddenly. “And this is your father at the side of the house, but you can see the front of the house. This is the front of the house, but you can see the side of the house with your father there…”