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Paul Ferris -- Who Are You Gonna Sue Today?

Sep 24, 1999, 13:46 (14 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Paul Ferris)

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By Paul Ferris, Staff Writer

The late summer haze had just settled over the Beer && Bytes when who should stroll in but my ole' "buddy" Slots Globnick. It's bad enough that the Latte machine leaves those iron filings in the mix, now I'd have to deal with Slot's iron-headed logic on top of it all.

Ratz and I were having an endless-loop discussion about the espresso machine that was going around like this:

Me: "Don't you think it's time to upgrade that thing? My dentist is removing fillings instead of addin' em!"

Ratz: "If it ain't broke, don't-"

Me: "It's broke though!" I broke in.

Ratz:"It's not broke! Everyone needs a little extra iron in their diet. It's a feature you might say."

Me: "Oh, come on!"

But Slots ended the cycle: "Don't complain, Sue!"

That stopped the conversation cold. Ratz and I both slowly turned to look at Slots, who as usual was picking chocolate sprinkles off of his (mostly) white dress shirt and Dilbert tie.

For some people, the only way to get resolution involves calling their lawyer. Even if it's family. As much as I hated the espresso and the metal filings, the idea of suing Ratz over it would compare to someone suing his priest because the communion wafers were stale.

I decided to hold off on the argument for a bit. If I was gonna get mad I might as well get mad at Slots, because usually he's great at supplying me with good reasons.

"Sue? Over an espresso machine?!?" I asked incredulously.

Slots looked back up. "Yeah." he said. "You gotta expect a certain level of service when you order a drink. If he won't provide it, you sue." If Slots were just a tad more aware of his surroundings he would have noticed the crowd slowly gathering around him, giving him what could only be optimistically called "less than optimal" looks.

A lot of people argue with Ratz about a lot of things in the Beer && Bytes. They argue about the decor (Mostly abandoned computer parts, tackely placed upon the walls). They argue about the selection (Although it's a bar, it's used primarily as a coffee house and there are only a few caffeinated drinks available).

But a lot of 'em just plain argue, because not arguing with Ratz at the Beer && Bytes would be kinda like going to the confessional to discuss football scores. You may disagree. You may yell. But sue? Sacrilege.

"Let me get this straight", I led in, guessing at just the kind of a blind alley Slots was heading for. "I sue Ratz over an espresso. Why don't I, if I don't like the service, simply stay home and make my own?"

At this point some people gave me quizzical stares, knowing that I'm not the kinda guy who sits at home drinking instant coffee when I could be out haggling over the benefits of vi versus emacs with Ratz. Ratz, by the way, always diffuses these things by stating that he must be non-partisan and that some topics are just too hot to touch.

"Not that I would stay home, mind you, just hypothetically speaking..." I quickly explained. The eyes returned back to Slots.

"Well, it's like with Microsoft Products. If you buy Windows, instead of Linux, you have someone to sue." Slots explained.

At this point Ratz grinned. He knew that he was out of the picture. I suppose that Slots could have chosen a rougher crowd somehow. Maybe he could have, for example, stepped into a Professional Wrestling tournament ring and started yelling "It's all fake!".

Maybe that would have been more humane, come to think of it. Ratz started laughing and turned to polishing an old upturned 286 AT case that he used to hold shot glasses.

"Come again," I said, "You have someone to sue ?!?. Name a company that has sued Microsoft and gotten away with it! No, wait, even better. Explain how suing a company like Microsoft is going to bring you any kind of relief when your server goes kaplooey in the middle of the night!"

Slots thought about this for quite a while. The sudden silence was kind of deafening. You could hear the whirring fan of an old XT running CGA space invaders in the corner. Finally Slots came back from what could only be a non-optimized batch processing job somewhere in the slower regions of his brain. "Ok, what I guess I'm trying to say is that I have someone who is directly liable to call and fix the problem."

You could almost hear him adding the words "Yeah, that's the ticket! Someone to call!" at the end. I looked over at one of the patrons who was leaning at the bar. The patron, Tiny, was keenly listening the whole time, and to make the correct analogy, leaning at the bar is kind of pushing things. More like, the bar was doing a heroic job of holding Tiny off of the floor.

Tiny is the only coder amongst us who looks like he could double as a Pro wrestler, except he wouldn't do it because it's not his style. Even if he did want to, the WWF probably wouldn't want him anyway because his tattoo "Born To Code Free" doesn't exactly project the kind of impression that mean Pro wrestler types are known for.

Like most of us, Tiny wasn't convinced. He finally spoke, slowly. Tiny always speaks slowly and clearly. It's so he won't make mistakes. We're all glad it's that way. "So," He says, "You get great tech support from your good ole buddies at Microsoft." He took a swig of coffee.

The effect on Slots was interesting. He and Tiny have had some moments of, well, confusion would be the best way to describe things. Slots in general has done a great job of avoiding the same kind of confusion since then by avoiding Tiny altogether.

Tiny continued. "You have a problem with your server software, like it won't do something you need it to do, and they just come a runnin' to help you." Tiny took another swig from his coffee cup, which in terms of size comparison, looked more like a shot glass.

"Well," Slots was looking about for the first time, and noticing the rather intense crowd that had gathered, listening carefully. "It's not exactly like that, I guess. No, they only fix what they've agreed to support. If it doesn't work I can get them to help make it work. That's what I guess I'm trying to say. I have someone to call." Slots was clearly getting nervous now.

"Ok, let me get this straight then, it's direct support you're after. You figure these are the guys that made the thing so they can be called and help you fix it, right?" I asked.

Slots seemed to think that his point was getting across finally. He relaxed a bit. It's the same kind of relaxation I'm sure that a fly feels just before the bug light zapper fries it to a crisp. "Exactly, yeah, that's what I meant."

"You don't need to sue, these guys can fix it because they made it!" I grinned.

Slot's grinned back. "Yeah!"

"What if they can't fix it then. What if it's a server reliability issue, like what's been happening to a lot of people that implement the wrong solutions in a mission-critical area?" I asked.

"Oh, well, in those cases I at least have someone to blame. It's not my problem, see? I've done all I can do, I've called Microsoft and they are working on the problem! I got a couple of issues like that at work right now."

"Ahh, I see." I said grinning. "And no one complains about having problems that cannot be resolved? No one complains when you have to reboot things all the time and critical services are down, or when, for example, the mail servers keep losing mail?"

"Oh, you know how it is." Said Slots, slurping away at the Latte that was by now probably pretty cool. "There's always some old codger in Engineering that's whining about how we should be using something else. I always tell 'em that progress comes with a price, and the managers know that no one ever got fired for using Microsoft."

Tiny spoke up again. "You sure about that? I heard some CEO got fired recently from SGI over NT. I bet he wasn't the first either..."

Slots waved this aside "He was taking a promotion. He didn't get fired, he actually went to Microsoft to head up their Internet stuff."

"Ah. How convenient." Said Tiny. "Well, now that sounds like a real step up the ladder. I still wonder if there haven't been some people hurt by choosing-"

I broke in at this point, to the relief of Ratz and the bar as well from what I could tell, which was straining enough as it was. Tiny stepped back a bit and listened again, smiling.

"So, what you are saying, is that if you buy Microsoft, you can only do so much, because your involvement is to click on some stuff. If that doesn't work, you call someone, who is the only company that can help, supposedly. If that doesn't work, you can just blame them. Suing doesn't factor into it at all."

Slots thought about this for a while. He didn't like where we had put him on this, but clearly some of the background CPU time was having trouble not seeing it exactly this way. "Yeah, I guess, that is what I'm saying. No one will fire you, and you can blame them because it's that way all over. Look, everyone may have trouble with Microsoft stuff, but it's what everyone does. So, everybody just accepts it that way."

I frowned. "Except your customers, who might need your information structure, inside or outside of the company. They might just go somewhere else for the services. Maybe to a company that's more reliable, or less costly if they are using a Open Source or Free Software solution." I said.

"I guess," Slots said, "but look, I can't be bothered with this Open Source stuff. It takes more time to learn. I can't get the same kind of support that I get from Microsoft."

Tiny broke back in. "That's for sure I'll bet! I bet that a lot of Linux support houses are doing a far better job, even though they weren't the ones who wrote it!"

The laughter subsided and Slots continued. "Look, Even if I could write my own solutions, I don't have the time to learn how. It's that simple. You guys are crazy for thinking that the whole world is just gonna switch to this stuff just because some people can do more with it. With Microsoft, a lot of people can do stuff that they can't do with Linux, and if it doesn't work all the time, or completely as advertised, well it does enough to help 'em get the job at least working."

"You mean, you can't setup a web server or file server with Linux?" Asked Tiny incredulously.

"Well," Slots thought a bit, "I've never really tried it, actually..."

"Ah." Said Tiny.

"Ah." I said in confirmation. "What you're really saying, I guess, is that you need someone to blame, more than to rely on things working from your own efforts. Having Microsoft to blame is more important than educating yourself and having yourself to blame."

Slots looked around, and slammed his drink down. "You're insulting me!"

"No, I'm following your line of reasoning." I said, matter of factly. "I can usually rely on Open Source products to work rather well. If they don't work as advertised, I can get support, quality support, either purchased or free through newsgroups or Internet relay chat. The solutions usually take a bit of time and reading on my part, but they work. I could, yes, write my own, but usually find that I can follow what others have done more often." I looked at him carefully.

This seemed to confuse Slots a bit. "But you are on your own." he said, "The quality of the solution is directly tied to how much you are willing to put up with or learn. I can't imagine that you wouldn't want to have the solutions be point and click, even if they didn't always work. Your job would be easier, that's what I'm trying to say."

"If I had to rely upon some proprietary company that made unreliable products in the face of having free products that provided better service," I said, "And even if those products demanded more of me, I would be in effect saying that I valued the quality of my services less, and my ability to dodge the responsibility and accountability to my customers more."

Slots was quiet. He thought about it for a long time.

Ratz broke the silence by asking me if I needed more espresso.

I looked at the old espresso machine with some trepidation. "How 'bout Tiny and I give you a hand fixing that damn thing." I finally managed.

"Ok, but don't blame me if tastes like crap after you're done!" Ratz replied.

Tiny and I grinned and looked at each other.

"No, I think we'll sue instead." I said, laughing and coming around the bar.

Thanks to Tom P (you know who you are) for the plotline behind this story.

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