Feeling curmudgeony

So, I was thinking about setting up a page to track companies I think are worth avoiding, and what alternatives are available.

I haven’t been able to find a site that does this, at least not in the way that I would like. A buddy and I had talked about starting a site called coporateconcience.org, but we never got past the planning stage. Busy lives. But let’s face it, consumer power is now a bigger player in the world socio-economic development than democratic power. I don’t approve, but in my analysis, it’s the reality. It’s not often talked about directly, but it does crop up in music and speculative fiction. Maybe it’s just blase… everyone knows it so why talk about it? I don’t know…

Anyway, I was recently reading about how Creative, who have been making my sound cards for >10 years, shut down a modder. Legally of course they had every right to do what they did, but in these days where the corporations dictate the laws, “legally” is not equivalent to “morally”.

Details are available here but the gist of it is as follows: Apparently creative “broke” their support for certain Audigy features under Vista. This was done intentionally, as a marketing strategy, in order to force Vista users to upgrade their sound cards. They did this by programming checks for which OS the computer is running, and in the event it is Vista, switching to buggy drivers. This modder took out those checks, and had Vista also go to the working drivers. The point I wish to make is this was an intentional act by Creative.

The most telling line in the whole article is this:

O’Shaughnessy [Creative’s VP of corportate comunications] also wrote that whether ornot it cropples its Vista drivers is a “business decision that only we have the right to make”

Okay, I don’t want to say this kind of behavior is on the same scale as manipulating elections, unscrupulous lobbying, unscrupulous lawyering, or using 13 year old sweat shop slaves to produce your goods. But it freaking annoying and arrogant as hell, don’t you think? Do you want to buy your stuff from a company with that kind of attitude? I certainly don’t, and I happen to be in the market for a soundcard (I’ve been making do with the onboard audio since I built my last PC, but I’m a bit fed up with it), so I’m going to dig around and find an alternative to audio, hopefully one that isn’t quite so asshole-ish to its customers.

Seriously, imagine you’re using your soundcard for several months, one day you update your drivers, and bang, everything is broken. Maybe you have the old drivers, or can find them, and you can make it work, but maybe not, and anyway what a hassle. Or you do what they want and get an upgrade. Well, if that scenario happens to me I’m gonna look hard for an alternative. In this case I’m going to try to avoid the scenario in the first place.

What bugs me is how ordinary this is. This is really the norm in the computer industry, software and hardware. It might be irrational, but I really blame Microsoft. They pioneered these kind of strategies, and virtue of being the big boys on the block, they legitimized them. I can remember several years ago, when Apple implemented a typical Microsoft feature into their Quicktime drivers — a pop up question to ask if you’d like to upgrade to QT-Pro. There was a lot of discussion at the time whether Apple should use such strategies, since it would be losing a certain amount of moral highground over Microsoft, and since they might lose customers. But it seems to have been successful, and this lovely feature remains with us to this day.

In the end though, the problem lies with the consumer. We are all such bloody idiots. That’s the failing in free-market doctrine. The benefits of a free-market economy come only to the extent that the assumption of an informed consumer is true (amongst other assumptions). This assumption really only holds to a limited degree, and marketing departments serve mainly to decrease this degree.

So maybe I should start a corporate conscience site. Maybe it would balance all the people in Marketing out there. I think Bill Hicks was right on when he would say “Anyone out there who’s in marketing? Kill yourselves! Seriously, I’m not joking, go home, put a gun in your mouth, and pull the trigger! I’m not kidding…”

Which gets me to the curmudgeony part of this post. Man, I feel a bit bummed out by how litigous the internet has become. How much like real life… I remember ten years ago, back in the wild west days of the net, where you could say whatever bullshit you liked, and it was virtually unheard of for your words to come and bite you in the ass. Ah well. Let me at least say that wistful reminiscences aside, I don’t thing the net is a worse place than it was.

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