What if Microsoft was a car maker?

If you’ve been in the IT industry more than eight years, you might remember an old joke about what would happen if Microsoft Corp. made cars.

It started with a quote attributed to Microsoft founder Bill Gates, that if General Motors kept up with technology, we could have $25 cars that got 1,000 miles to the gallon.

According to this urban legend, GM responded with a press release listing some of the characteristics cars would have if they were made by Microsoft. For one, the car would crash for no reason twice a day. In addition, the airbag system would generate a message asking “are you sure?” before deploying. These cars, during left-hand turns, would shut down and drivers would have to re-install their engines before re-starting.

Microsoft’s efforts to encourage users to upgrade to Vista have brought back memories of the car comparison.

More in ComputerWorld Canada

2,000 Canadians want to save Windows XP

On June 30, Microsoft Corp. stopped selling XP at the retail level, and those who want the operating system on their PCs will now have to buy hardware that was already in inventory as of June 30. This does not mean Microsoft has stopped supporting XP, but will in 2014. Until then, Microsoft says it will provide security and critical updates.

Presumably, if someone discovers a serious security problem with XP, Microsoft will work on a patch. The year 2014 may seem like some time in the distant future. But in 1994, the year 2000 seemed like a long way off, yet companies were already starting to update their systems to accommodate four-digit dates.

Many ComputerWorld Canada readers complained, on IT World Canada’s Save XP site, that some applications that work on XP do not work (or don’t work well) on Vista. More than 2,000 readers signed our petition asking Microsoft to continue offering XP. Although Windows XP Professional will continue to be available, the only way of getting this on new hardware is by buying it with Windows Vista Business or Vista Ultimate and then “downgrading” to XP.

This is where the car analogy comes in.

Suppose General Motors made major changes to the 2010 Pontiac Grand Prix, adding bells and whistles that few drivers want. Suppose further that any 2008 or 2009 cars covered by GM’s warranty would not be repaired by GM dealers after 2012, unless owners bought 2010 Grand Prixes and then put them in storage. Would car owners be happy with that? Well, if you see the announcements from Microsoft, Dell and Lenovo over downgrade rights, you might get the impression that the vendors think you should be thanking them for continuing to support an operating system that you already paid good money for, and is part of your IT infrastructure.

Some would say Vista has better security features than XP, and anyone wanting to keep XP should consider the features of Vista. But if Windows XP is truly such a poor operating system that Microsoft is reluctant to sell it, then maybe Vista should given away as a free upgrade to existing XP users. For corporate IT departments, the other options include Macintosh and Linux.

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