Renewing the Revolution

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2001-05-21 Print this article Print

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which."

"The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which." Thus did George Orwell conclude his cautionary parable of Stalinism, "Animal Farm," in 1946; thus unfolds the battle for the desktop of the forthcoming Windows XP.

At the beginning of Orwells fable, the pigs are the leaders of the revolution. We know why there was a PC revolution: We were tired of being told what we could have and how we could use it.

We were tired of IBMs account control, as described by Ted Nelson in 1974: "IBM is always introducing and discontinuing products, and changing prices and contractual arrangements and software options in an elaborate choreography, which applies calculated pressures on the customer." I wont bother to point out the parallels with PC hardware and software upgrade paths in the last 10 years.

But now we hear, in a leaked AOL memo, that Microsoft proposes to limit preinstalled icons on the XP desktop; we hear that AOL might partner with PC makers to produce appliances with alternative operating systems. Im reminded of the brawl that precedes the final moment of Orwells tale: "The source of the trouble appeared to be that Napoleon and Mr. Pilkington had each played an ace of spades simultaneously." In our own situation, the ace of spades is Internet users mind share: Is Microsofts platform the ace that will take the pot? Or will AOLs content control be the winning card?

Fortunately, we dont have to accept an Orwellian dictum: "All bits are equal, but some are more equal than others." We dont have to work for the winner of this game. Standards exist. Tools exist. Networks exist.

If were still eating out of nose bags in years to come, its because we were afraid to take them off.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developers' technical requirements on the company's evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter company's first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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