The wait has given me time to monologue about Microsoft. I am increasingly orbiting further away from its gravitational pull. Firefox long ago supplanted Internet Explorer as my browser of choice. I gave up on my Hotmail account a month or two ago. I use OpenOffice rather than Office 2007/2010 on a number of computers. I even installed the Ubuntu operating system rather than Windows when I salvaged an old laptop. I've found that I can easily live without Microsoft.
I'm worried that I'm helping to destroy a good thing.
You can despise the muscle-flexing that Microsoft used to establish its hegemony in the computer world, and you can doubly despise how Microsoft incessantly installs patches and add-ons and whoosy-whats-its to all of its products. You also have to admit that Microsoft Windows and Office have been pretty useful over the years. I came of age when PCs moved from novelties to essentials, and I credit much of the evolution to the way Microsoft got everyone onto the same system. It reminds me of old history lessons about how marauding armies of yore helped standardize communication by forcing people to speak their language. They may have spread smallpox and slaughtered innocents, but they also got everyone speaking the same language. Microsoft spread Windowsox and Officesox for money, and by doing so revolutionized the way almost everyone does business.
But now there are comparable options that are free. You can save the $140 and buy another mp3 player or whatever. Is that a good thing in the long run? The freeware world confuses me because I don't understand how it is sustainable. In any economy, you exchange goods and services for goods and services, with money as the grease to that transaction. I make pies, you make cakes, and we can both have pies and cakes if we're willing to trade. Now, programmers make pies, and they get back... good feelings? I'm left feeling the same way I did in the late '90s, when everyone quit their jobs to work for internet startups. You'd ask your buddy to explain his business plan, and he's say something about, "Well, we don't make money now, but once we get enough subscribers, we'll make money from advertising." The plan worked for very few of them. Very few, despite the time they put in and the good that came of it. Most have transitioned to more traditional jobs like marketing, lawyering, and real estating. Maybe they were motivated by self-interested hopes of becoming millionaires, but what they produced was pretty damn useful to the collective. Some of my college roommates helped to pioneer online job recruiting, for example. I'm old enough to know what a web-free job search was like. It stank, and it made who you knew much more important that what you knew. In a very real way, Crimson Solutions (the original name of their company) helped to revolutionize how you get a job. I don't really know how much they all made from their venture, but it wasn't much, in my opinion, in relation to the amount of effort they put in and the amount of good that came of it. Their story made me apprehensive.
The incentives to create the things I want most, like good software and good music, seem to be fewer and fewer while the incentives to create things I don't want, like another mp3 player, haven't changed. I know I'm airing a tired idea. I know economics is about supply and demand, not about effort or actual good or productivity or any of that other idealistic stuff. I know all progress is scary; and that this will all work itself out in the long run because, well, because life goes on and it has to work itself out. Because programmers and artists and everyone else have no choice but to get something for their services. I keep hoping, though, that we're finally at the cusp of the Star Trek economy. If you're a Next Generation Trekkie like me, you know that the intrepid explorers of the USS Enterprise worked for goodwill's sake, that money was a thing of the past. I suppose you can get away with fantasy stuff like that on TV, where everyone knows their place and stays busy and feels appreciated and eats. What's standing in our way of having the Star Trek economy... today? It seems like we have the means, productivity-wise. Is it pride? Greed? Logistics? It it simply that one kind of supply - the material kind - is limited and another - the software/art kind - is limitless? How close are we to a functional replicator of the Star Trek sort?
I love the freeware world and I admire the principles behind it, but I don't understand how it will sustain unless other goods and services also become free; and it doesn't seem like Exxon-Mobil or Con-Agra will be moving in that direction any time soon. Until the Start Trek economy becomes a reality, do I have an obligation to even this equation and buy Microsoft? What's the right thing to do in the long run?
Addendum: It's 2:40 pm three days after I started this post, and Service Pack 1 is finally done installing. I'm starting to think that the right thing to do is to teach myself how to program and to contribute some sort of application...