My life as a pirate


It was the summer of  '85 when I took a University course on personal computers.   One of the TAs gave us a lecture on why it was our duty to pirate copy computer software.  Her logic was that legal copies of software were outrageously overpriced and the capitalist running dog monopolist software makers needed to be taught a lesson.     I never really took that lecture to heart, when I got my first computer, a Commodore 64, I found the software for it very affordable, and boughten software came with excellent manuals, a necessity in the days of the command line interface.  I bought the Commodore because I needed a word processor, and Paper Clip for the Commodore was a huge leap forward from fighting with handwritten drafts, typewriters, and correction fluid in order to submit the dreaded 2,000 word essay.

That Commodore served my needs for years before I upgraded to a PC 'IBM clone' running MSDOS and Windows 3.1.  It was an amazing machine for one used to the C64 hooked up to an old TV, files stored on single sided 5.25" floppy disks.   A  real PC' featuring with a dedicated 640 X 480 VGA color monitor, a huge 30 Megabyte hard drive,  3.5" double sided floppy disk drive, for only half the price of a good second hand car.  MSDOS and Windows 3 came installed on every PC that wasn't a mac,  a hook that was supposed to sell Microsoft's mostly office 'productivity' overpriced software.   For those who did not want to pay silly prices for such things as word processors or spreadsheets, shareware and freeware provided free or nearly free alternatives as capable of producing a ten page printed university paper as the more expensive 'professional' software.   Windows 3.1 was a nice little graphical user interface that made file management chores a lot easier,  it was OK for the mostly simple tasks that required it. For serious stuff, like playing DOOM and other important things, one used MSDOS, easy enough once you got the hang of BAT files and when not to use "delete *.*".  MSDOS ran everything, if you wanted to run windows, you waited for the C prompt, and typed 'windows', if you wanted it, which most of the time you didn't.

It was Windows 95 that turned me to the dark side.  MSDOS was a simple, reliable operating system that did what operating systems should do, stay out of the way while you did whatever you bought the computer for. The rationale for Windows 95 was that unlike MSDOS it would be capable of multitasking.  I wasn't exactly sure why this was desirable, as I am pretty much a one thing at a time tasker, but I bought in, the launch of Windows 95 was generating the same level of hype that the latest new i-whatever  creates today.  So when Windows 95 came out, I bought a copy.  I believe I spent about a hundred bucks for this unreliable, flawed, failure prone piece of crap.  All Windows 95 came with was a CD, there was no manual, just a brochure with maybe 10 pages or so of basic instructions, which probably seems strange to anyone who started computing after 1995, but if you were there before, you had become accustomed to comprehensive manuals that contained everything you  needed to know (Microsoft's 2" thick manual for MSDOS and Windows 3 probably had more pages and words than the bible and it came with every copy).  With Windows 95 you were supposed to use the help software that you accessed through Windows, but that was not much good when you were staring at the blue screen of death, a familiar sight for every Windows 95 user.   Windows 95 was so bad that Microsoft had to create Windows 98 almost immediately after releasing Windows 95 (for Microsoft 3 years for a major product release is almost immediately) .

After my Windows 95 purchase I figured Microsoft owed me big time, not for the 100 bux, but for the months of nights of my life wasted fighting with their crappy not ready for prime time operating system.   My upgrade to Win 98 SE was provided by Long John Silver.  That Windows 95 disk was the last Microsoft product I paid for.   It was ridiculously easy to defeat Microsoft copy protection, which consisted of having to laboriously type in random number and letter passcodes whose only function seemed to be to annoy users each they installed (and re-installed and re-installed after it broke) "Windows for the very first time!".

When Microsoft announced that their newest version of Windows, XP, could only be installed on a single computer, even for those who paid for a copy, and that even upgrading a computer past a certain point would require paying for a new install, enforced by spyware, it was time to abandon the bad ship Microsoft.  Switching to a Mac would be like leaping from the frying pan to the fire, as Apple was even more aggressively proprietary and Macs were way overpriced, so I switched to Linux, a system that owes  its existence to Microsoft's clumsy crapware and stupid policies.

 Whatever Linux is or isn't, in the early oughties it was at the cutting edge of what is now known as 'cloud computing', or using the internet for everything.  The Internet destroyed Microsoft's monopoly position for the PC.  Operating systems are irrelevant on the internet so long as they can http and www.  Ironically, the openness and universal accessibility of the internet and anti Microsoft backlash saved Apple from oblivion. The i-pod, i-phone, i-pad and the i-whatever-comes-next are just internet file sharing for dummies and those too cool to learn stuff.  To give Apple credit, they learned that it is a lot easier make a million by charging 1 million people a buck than  getting a thousand people to fork over a grand.  A lesson that many who would make money from intellectual property have yet to understand.

Switching to Linux  meant that I could withdraw from my war with Microsoft.  When I heard about how XP was going to implement copy protection, I predicted that XP would be the end of Microsoft.  Ironically it was not XP that turned Microsoft's user base against them, but Vista.   Doubly ironic because Vista was a much better OS than XP, but users did not like it was because Microsoft, in their usual clumsy way, arbitrarily rearranged the furniture of the Windows interface, so when people switched from XP to Vista, they had to relearn how to use everything, and they did not like it.   I had few problems adjusting to Vista, as Microsoft had borrowed much from Linux or its parent UNIX.

It is now so cheap  and easy to buy a PC, they have gone from the price of a new car in the late 80's to no more than the price of a couple of new tires today.  And new PCs still come with the latest version of Windows already installed.  I am OK with that, as I am not paying the retail price for Windows, which can be nearly equal to the price of a new PC with Windows already installed, especially if it is a 'premium' version.  All my PCs dual boot to Linux, but since Vista, I pretty much use Windows for everything now.  Finally Windows is relatively trouble free, and is still the most compatible with the programs I really want to use, which remains the reason I use computers.   I wonder when a new version of DOOM will be released?

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