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The night visitor

Norman shows me his new OS. Gigglebytes hed: The night visitor dek: Norman shows me his new OS. by Lincoln Spector

The kids were finally asleep, and my wife and I settled down to watch a nice, romantic movie–“Julia Roberts Meets Godzilla.” After 10 minutes of opening logos and animated DVD menus, I sensed a presence behind me. I jumped up and spun around.

You guessed it. It was my neighbor Norman. You remember Norman, don’t you? President, CEO, and lone employee of SoftPop Technology Inc., the company formerly known as SoftPop Software and softpopdotcom.com.

“Hi, Lincoln,” he cried out over the deafening THX blast. “I know you don’t answer the door this late at night, so I came in through the window. I just gotta show you my new operating system, SoftPop XP.”

By now my wife had taken the remote and switched to a news channel. “OK,” I said. “Five minutes.”

“Great!” he cried and ran into my study.

By the time I got there, he was booting my PC from a CD-R. “I’ll just use the option to replace your current OS with mine,” he explained. “It’s a very clean install. Cleans your whole drive.” Before I could object the screen went entirely black. He looked a bit confused. “How much RAM do you have?”

“128 megabytes,” I answered.

“Well, that is the official minimum,” he told me. “Of course we recommend 256. Anything less and it can only run one program–an error message that tells you that you need more RAM. Still, it shouldn’t have stopped here.”

Then he smiled. “How stupid of me. It’s the activation program. If you attempt to install SoftPop XP on a computer without first registering the technical specifications with SoftPop Technologies, your system is deactivated. Hope you don’t mind a blank hard drive and fried CPU.

“Luckily,” he went on, reaching into the shoulder bag he had with him, “I’ve got my SoftPop XP-installed notebook with me.”

“Original name,” I said as he opened the notebook and booted up. “What does the XP stand for?”

“Officially, eXtreme Persistence, but off the record it’s eX sPouse. My alimony bills are killing me. Now watch what happens when I boot up.”

The graphics, I have to admit, were impressive. As the OS loaded, I was treated to a roller coaster ride, a trip down the canals of Venice, and a flight over the Grand Canyon. Then everything came to a stop on the default wallpaper: the Norman’s smiling face.

“We’ve taken great pains to give SoftPop XP the ultimate user-friendly interface.” Norman eagerly sat me down in front of the notebook. “Go ahead, click the Begin button.”

I did as I was told. Up popped a colorful, animated message box. “Isn’t it time you signed up for a Passout account? Without a Passout account, you cannot use SoftPop Messenger or other vital features built into SoftPop XP. In fact, without a Passout account, you will soon be unable to buy anything anywhere. To sign up, just click the link below for the simple Passout signup form. Be sure not to read our privacy statement.”

“Does this pop up every time you click the Start button?” I asked.

“Begin button!”

“Sorry. Does this pop up every time you click the Begin button?” I asked.

“Of course.”

“And it only stops when you sign up?”

“Stop?” Norman asked.

“Norman, why would anybody buy SoftPop XP?”

“Because they’ll have to. With their next set of upgrades, none of SoftPop’s extensive collection of applications will run on anything but SoftPop XP. Neither, for that matter, will Passout. Once every e-commerce site on the Web has converted to the Passout system, it’s either SoftPop XP or do all of your shopping at a wretched bricks-and-mortar store. And who wants to buy nothing but bricks and mortar? Besides, the explosive growth of e-commerce can only result in the complete death of all other forms of retail. I read that at least two years ago.”

“But why should e-commerce sites go entirely to your system and give up other ways of bringing in revenue?”

“Because those other ways don’t supply me with the complete shopping habits of all of their customers.”

He saw that I wasn’t satisfied with that answer. “Look, there are other reasons for people to upgrade to SoftPop XP. For one thing, this OS is almost entirely crashproof. The OS will kill a misbehaving application before it has a chance to bring down the entire system.”

“Really?” I asked. I launched SoftPop Word from a desktop icon. But all I got was a dialog box informing me that SoftPop XP had found it necessary to close the word processor. So I tried the bundled e-mail program, Outlook Uncertain. Same thing. So I tried Vendetta Publisher. SoftPop XP closed that one, as well.

“Norman, isn’t there anything that your OS won’t close?”

“Try the bundled browser, Internet Titanic.”

So I tried it. Sure enough, SoftPop XP didn’t close Internet Titanic. Internet Titanic crashed SoftPop XP.

“Norman,” I said, “I think it’s time for you to leave.”

“But I haven’t shown you the nifty way that every keystroke and mouse click gets automatically backed up to the SoftPop server in my living room.”

“Norman, if you go now I promise not to hurt you.”

He closed his notebook and left. I returned to the living room, where my wife was fast asleep on the couch. I sat down next to her, restarted the DVD, and fell asleep, as well.

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