Exploding heads and running in circles

Microsoft's reduced functionality mode under fire

"Stupid is as stupid does" -- Forrest Gump (Tom Hanks) in "Forrest Gump" (1994).

You've got to wonder sometimes how people can open their mouths and say things that are so stupid, so downright transparently ridiculous and illogical that their heads should simply explode.

For example, Rupert Murdoch and O.J. Simpson should have exploded over the If I Did It book and TV special they had planned. Then, when the predictable outcry short-circuited the project, Murdoch followed up with the pathetic "We are sorry." The "we" should have made his head detonate on the spot.

Two things in the heads-should-explode category that concern our beloved industry are on my mind this week. The first concerns a "feature" that Microsoft Office 2007 and Windows Vista will have called reduced functionality mode. This will be similar to the "feature" we know and love in Windows XP, Office XP and Office 2003. Reduced functionality mode ensures that, should an authenticity check fail, the software will refuse to do anything really useful until reauthorized.

Using this technique is in and of itself reasonable as long as it works, and so far with Office 2003, Office XP and Windows XP, it has worked better than I had expected. But Microsoft couldn't admit that this technique is an antipiracy measure. Oh, no, the company had to try to sell it as good for the consumer.

Cori Hartje, director of Microsoft's Genuine Software Initiative, tried to put a positive spin on it : "One of the things the Software Protection Platform enables is enhancements to the genuine experience in Windows Vista, thereby differentiating it from the nongenuine experience. Customers that use genuine Windows Vista product should expect, and will get, an enhanced set of features that will not work on nongenuine or unlicensed versions of Windows Vista." As these words left her lips, there should have been a resounding bang.

But no, no bang was heard. Then Hartje said, "Windows Vista will have a reduced functionality mode but one that is enhanced." Enhanced? A mushroom cloud at this point would have been reasonable.

You have to wonder how Microsoft can carry on with this pathetic ruse. Could it be that their heads already have exploded and, chicken-like, they are just running in circles sans heads?

The other heads-should-explode thing that caught my attention was the concluding arguments in a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Child Online Protection Act (COPA). This act, if declared legal, would carry insane penalties of up to US$50,000 per day and up to six months imprisonment for online material judged "harmful to minors" that isn't protected by controlled access.

According to the transcript for Nov. 15, a witness for the government, Scott Morris Smith, director of the Marriott School of Management's Institute of Marketing at Brigham Young University, uttered the bizarre assertion that "COPA . . . offers 31 different flavors of sex on the Internet." I cannot find any reference to COPA offering anything of the sort, yet both the court and the defense failed to challenge the statement, and no one's head exploded.

What is staggering is that no matter what you might think of the merits of COPA or the ACLU's argument that it violates the First Amendment and that filtering solves the problem, enforcing the act is impossible. The government seems to have not noticed that the Internet is too big and has a huge, non-U.S. component that would render such an act impotent even if it was found to be lawful.

Perhaps it is too late for the government. Perhaps, like Microsoft, it is running in circles. Kind of explains a lot doesn't it?

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