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7/28/2006
04:50 PM
John Soat
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IT Confidential: Conspiracy Theories And the Software Industry--A Perfect Fit

Conspiracy theories are better than reality; they're more fun and fit better with the facts. Here are a few new software conspiracy theories. Try them on for size, then see if you can come up with your own big-picture views.

I love conspiracy theories. They attempt to make sense of random events in a mundane and anarchic world. The best ones have a logic, and a life, all their own.

The Internet was made for conspiracy theories. The online community has been buzzing about the death of Ken Lay, former chairman of Enron, almost from the moment it was announced. Conspiracy theorists postulate that Lay faked his death in order to cheat his conviction on fraud and corruption charges, and he's basking on an island somewhere, probably with Elvis and Jim Morrison.

The technology industry has its own juicy examples. The mother of all software conspiracy theories is the one about Inslaw, a software company that developed and marketed case management software for judicial systems. According to conspiracy theorists, officials at the Justice Department forced Inslaw out of business, then appropriated its software code, which they used extensively for intelligence work in foreign countries. There's more to this one, a lot more, including involvement at the highest levels of government. It's known in conspiracy circles as "The Octopus."

As one might imagine, there are several conspiracy theories involving the most powerful software company, Microsoft. Here are a couple:

>> The operating system Microsoft sold to IBM for its first PC, MS-DOS, "borrowed" heavily from the CP/M system written by Gary Kildall and sold by his company, Digital Research. The cast of characters is particularly interesting in this one, including Kildall, the Pete Best of PC software, and Tim Patterson, the man who wrote MS-DOS--not Bill Gates.

>> The Windows operating system communicates with Microsoft headquarters, sending back details of an individual's computer, such as its configuration or the contents of its hard drive. Back around the introduction of Windows 95, this was a red-hot conspiracy theory. Now it's a business model. How time changes viewpoints and attitudes.

I thought I'd throw a few software conspiracy theories of my own into the mix, based on superficial observations and not-very-well-informed speculation.

>> Service-oriented architecture is a terrorist plot to undermine the global computing infrastructure. Just when the concepts of simplicity and ease of use were making headway in the computer industry, along comes SOA, an acronym-laden, protocol-intensive software obstacle course.

>> Oracle CEO Larry Ellison intends to acquire all significant software in the computer industry, then hold the user community hostage. Wait, that's not a conspiracy theory, it's a fact.

>> The two founders of Google, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, received instructions on how to build their search engine from outer space. Variation on this theory: Page and Brin themselves are from outer space. The fact is, you might not want to dig too deep into the Stanford alumni database--you don't know what you might find.

>> Bill Gates sold his soul to the devil. How else do you explain Windows, a decidedly average piece of software, becoming the biggest thing in the history of the computer industry? It worked for Led Zeppelin, a decidedly average rock 'n' roll band that became one of the top-grossing pop acts of all time.

Want more? I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours. Send them to jsoat@cmp.com or phone 516-562-5326.

"The News Show" knows about the big conspiracy--the really big one. Watch "The News Show" and find out, at noon EDT every weekday, at TheNewsShow.tv.


To discuss this column with other readers, please visit John Soat's forum.

To find out more about John Soat, please visit his page.

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