"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.