Square peg, round hole: Cringely

In my experience, the best way to write crap has been to come up with a conclusion and then try to write something that supports it. You assume your instinct on a topic will translate into sound logic, and when it doesn’t, you either trash the piece or you spend your time squeezing the square peg that is your logic into the round hole that is your conclusion. It’s ugly.

In fact, this kind of crap isn’t just produced by punchy out-of-college bloggers; sometimes it gets published. An especially egregious example popped up in the Times recently. The offender? Robert X. Cringely (is that pronounced like crinkly, or like cringe-inducing-ly?), the nom-de-plume of a reasonably well known technology journalist. The offense? This piece of logic Chernobyl.  Let’s have a little fun with it (the bold is text from the piece, the plaintext is constructive criticism. If you recognize the format from a retired baseball blog written by writers of “The Office”, you get a cookie):

Chrome vs. Bing vs. You and Me

I’m already lost. This sounds like a Jim Carrey movie. Are Chrome and Bing fighting for the chance to challenge you and me, or is it a three-way death match, like a gladiator contest? Couldn’t he just write Chrome vs. Bing vs. Us? Or, wait, maybe he means (Chrome vs. Bing vs. You) and (Me), as in, the three of us are fighting, and then there’s Robert; maybe he’s a referee?)

Also, I’m pretty sure Chrome and Bing aren’t against me or Mr. Cringely – they’re applications that we can use if we enjoy using them, so I’m guessing they try to be pretty user-friendly.

THE battle between Microsoft and Google entered a new phase last week with the announcement of Google’s Chrome Operating System — a direct attack on Microsoft Windows.

Huh, so Chrome is attacking Windows, also? So maybe the title should be:

“Chrome vs. Windows, but also vs. Bing, with Bing and Chrome being concurrently vs. You and Me”

This isn’t the first salvo in a war that has already seen Google lob its Chrome Web browser against Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, Google pit its Android smart-phone operating system against Microsoft’s Windows Mobile, and Microsoft, in turn, aim its new search technology, Bing, against Google’s very heart — the Google search engine.

So many versuses! Cringely just couldn’t fit it all into one title. I propose:

“Companies Compete With One Another, You and Me Somehow Involved”

Anyway, pretty big set up. Stuffs happening. Things are being aimed and pitted. I’m excited.

This is all heady stuff

I’m drunk just reading about it.

and good for lots of press,

I’m as excited as I would be for “Tyson vs. Holyfield vs. You and Me”.

but in the end none of this is likely to make a real difference for either company or, indeed, for consumers.

Oh. So, uhh, all that set-up? Doesn’t matter at all? For anyone? Not even a bit? So it’s not “Bing vs. Chrome vs. You and Me”? It’s just “Nothing”? I’m a little disappointed, but I guess let’s keep reading.

It’s just noise — a form of mutually assured destruction intended to keep each company in check.

Do you know what mutually assured destruction is, Robert? I mean, for someone born in 1953, you should have a pretty good idea – the world was on the brink of it when you were nine. Noise is certainly a part of M.A.D., in the sense that nuclear bombs make a noise when they explode, but I’m pretty sure they also wipe out the world (that’s the “destruction” bit, for those not in the know).

Also, not to repeat a point, but, computer programs aren’t typically antagonists. Will Google’s programs one day come to life and start ripping apart Microsoft’s code, only to activate the kill switch in Windows that will turn Google’s search engine into a giant MySpace page? I guess that would be a form of computer program M.A.D., but what is this, the fucking Matrix?

Microsoft makes most of its money from two products, Microsoft Windows and Microsoft Office. Nearly everything else it makes loses money, sometimes deliberately. Google makes most of its money from selling Internet ads next to search results. Nearly everything else it does loses money, too.

Ah, some facts, finally. They don’t have anything to do with mutually assured destruction, but I’ll take pretty much anything at this point.

Neither company really cares because both make so much from their core products that it simply doesn’t matter.

If they really didn’t care, they’d fill the Bing office with confetti and just fund 24 hour orgies inside it, with plenty of Bing jokes to match. Look, I’m sure Microsoft and Google is filled with nerds, but when people have tons of money and don’t care what they do with it, they buy cars, or pay dividends, or set up charitable foundations. Warren Buffet isn’t setting up the buff-it.com porn search engine just for shits, and even that would be more fun than Bing.

But companies, like people, strive and dream and in this case both dream, at least sometimes, of destroying the other.

But I thought they didn’t care? Are they perpetrating senseless violence towards each other out of wealth-induced boredom? Are you trying to draw an analogy between Google releasing Chrome and Cleopatra sticking pins into the breasts of her servants?

Only they can’t — or won’t — do it in the end, because it is against the interests of either company to do so.

God, you’re an astute one, Robbie Cringles. If only Sergei Brin, Larry Page and Bill Gates could stand on your commanding heights of genius and see what’s really going on. All the people below, starting their operating systems, doing their searches, not seeing what’s right in front of their nose: companies are so wealthy that they are ambivalently creating scenarios to destroy their rivals which they won’t carry out because they don’t want to. Duh!

The vast majority of Google searches are, of course, done on PCs running Microsoft Windows and Internet Explorer. It is not in Google’s real interest to displace these products, which have facilitated so much of its success.

Well of course. If people stop using Windows, they’ll also probably stop searching the internet. Windows has that certain je-ne-sais-quoi that makes me want to get on the internet, get on Google Images and type “Jessica Alba.” As soon as I install Chrome OS, I’m probably just gonna go back to playing Freecell. Look Google, I know you’re a hi-tech company and all, sometimes the best course of action is to just stick with what works, and not to try anything too crazy, even if you’re earning money faster than Sergei can spend it on 24 hour orgies. That’s how technology works – Cringely would know, he’s been covering the computing industry since 1987.

Chrome products are given away, so they bring in no revenue for Google

You know what else is given away for free? Google search. No really. That thing they make all their money with, they give it away for free. Check it out. Google.com. No gimmick. Give it a shot. Search “how to properly use logic”.

and they don’t even provide a better search or advertising experience for their users, the company admits.

I did a little background research on this myself (it was tough, first I had to subscribe to Google Search, and then I typed Google Chrome, and then I clicked the first link), and I was surprised, given Crinkley’s assertion, that it didn’t say something like “Google Chrome: a browser that isn’t that great and you probably won’t benefit that much from it.” Actually, it says “Google Chrome is a browser that combines a minimal design with sophisticated technology to make the web faster, safer, and easier.” Huh.

So why does Google even bother? To keep Microsoft on its toes.

Yeah, to keep Microsoft on its toes about the possibility of Google stealing Microsoft’s cash cow by offering a free open source operating system could potentially be better than Windows, forcing Microsoft to spend lots of money improving the quality of its products. Right? Am I alone on this one?

What Google’s chief executive, Eric Schmidt, has to fear more than anything else is that he’ll awake one day to learn that the Google search engine suddenly

You’re reasonable people, fill in that sentence.

That the Google search engine suddenly isn’t seen as the only choice for search?

That the Google search engine suddenly has major competition in the form of Bing?

That the Google search engine suddenly was found guilty of the torture committed in Abu Ghraib?

Please say something reasonable, Robster, please. Oh wait…

doesn’t work on any Windows computers: something happened overnight and what worked yesterday doesn’t work today.

But wouldn’t that be…..

It would have to be an act of deliberate sabotage on Microsoft’s part and blatantly illegal, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

When was the last time a company (a huge company, run by smart people), did something a) blatantly illegal and b) blatantly obvious? Blatantly illegal happens, Madoff, Enron, whatever, but Madoff didn’t come out in the 80s and say “Hey guys, I’m gonna start a Ponzi scheme! Who wants in?” This is the most ridiculous idea ever. It would be easier for Microsoft to pay North Korean special-ops to burn down Google’s office.

Microsoft would claim ignorance and innocence and take days, weeks or months to reverse the effect, during which time Google would have lost billions.

During which time most people would switch to Chrome OS because they want to use Google products? During which time Google would sue Microsoft for a stupid amount of money? During which time we’ll find out that Bill Gates is entering late stage dementia, and thus would have a reason for pulling shit like that? Do you need help, Robbie?

So Google Chrome and Chrome OS and Android are all intended to keep Microsoft on the defensive and less likely to push its own Big Red Button.

Bill Gates loves the idea of nuclear war. His biggest regret in life is not being born early enough to participate in the Manhattan Project. His office is built to resemble US Central Command. He spends most of his days coming up with doomsday scenarios, digging bunkers and mumbling about how those fucking Communists at Google are giving everything away for free. Sometimes he comes out and, you know, runs a business and stuff, but not usually.

This makes even more sense given the recent advent of Microsoft’s Bing search technology, which performs precisely the same competitive control function against Google. Bing hasn’t a hope of toppling Google as the premier search engine and Microsoft knows it.

I hasn’t a hope for finding a single reasonable thought in this article. You’re right Robbie, it has no hope. Before Google, there was nothing. After Google, there will be only Google. Where did you find that conclusion? On Lycos?

To date, Bing’s success has actually been at the expense of Google’s competitors, not Google itself.

Poor Lycos. But yeah, let’s judge Bing on the one and a half months it’s been in existence.

But thanks to Microsoft’s deep pockets and fierce screwball reputation, Bing has already accomplished its main purpose: reminding Google executives who they’re messing with.

[Inside Google’s underground bunker]

*two knocks*

Chairman Sergei: Da, enter.

Googlburo Intern: Zdrastvetyah Chairman Sergei, I bear bad news.

Sergei: Ah! Vat bear, ver is bear?

Intern: No, no, um, there isn’t a bear, just bad news.

Sergei: Mmm. In Russia, many bear.

Intern: It’s Microsoft. They’ve released a search engine. It’s called Bing.

Sergei: Vis isn’t good. How is this… Bing?

Intern: You know, it’s a search engine. It’s better than Lycos.

Sergei: Our market share, has fallen much?

Intern: No, we’re doing OK.


Sergei: Nyet, I am not so concerned. Dey may have the deep pockets, dese capitalist pigs, but dey do not have the socialist creative mind spirit.

Intern: Well, actually, that’s the problem. It seems they’ve changed their approach. You know how they’ve always been a faceless, business-first corporation ever since they got really rich? You know how no one really likes Microsoft? They’re doing something different. Dare I say, they’ve, well, they’ve become.. uh, not sure how to put this…

Sergei: Vat, vat?

Intern: Screwballs.

Sergei: Vat is screwball?

Intern: Uhh, like, a crackpot, an eccentric, whimsical.


Sergei: Vis isn’t good. Ver did you hear dis?

Intern: Read about it in the Times.

Sergei: Vat is the proof?

Intern: Well there wasn’t anything substantive in the article, but I’ve heard some rumors. The board of directors has all started wearing fake mustaches. They’ve moved their office from a building into a swamp. They write computer code on Pop-Tarts, and Bill Gates makes his shareholders speak in tongues during meetings. Real eccentric stuff.

Sergei: Hooy morzhovy, I underestimate who I mess with. Vat is veir next step?

Intern: I don’t know, something about North Koreans.

It’s not as if these companies are gearing up to produce automobiles. The engineering teams for any of these products are, at most, 20 to 30 people — immaterial for Microsoft, which has 90,000 or so employees, and Google, which has 20,000.

The core functionality of Google was made by 2 people.

Nor are all of Google’s products even guaranteed to ship, being as they are in that semi-solid technical state called beta test and subject to cancellation on a whim.

I’m guessing they only ship the good ones that might have an impact. Maybe I’m crazy, but that’s my guess.

Yes, Google would love to get a toehold in the netbook and smart-phone markets, especially at Microsoft’s expense.


The Chrome OS and Android are both ideal for pushing Google’s net-centric view of computing. But the company worries far more about protecting its current cash cow — search — and says as much when it is unwilling to claim that Android and the Chrome OS will be better for Web-based applications than the platforms they are intended to supplant, which is nominally Windows.

Yes, Google cares a lot about protecting its search engine dominance. Stop the presses. That’s what the other thousands of employees do. They also try to expand their reach into other areas, because these might also be profitable at some point (like… wait for it… Gmail).

Bill Gates once told me the company that defeats Microsoft hadn’t been founded yet.  That is probably still the case.

Someone told me something a while ago. It’s probably still true. I’m a journalist!

Remember Microsoft was less than five years old when I.B.M. plucked it from obscurity to provide PC-DOS, with Microsoft eventually turning on Big Blue and driving I.B.M. from the PC business entirely.

This is relevant because, Google is more than five years old, and Microsoft will pluck them? Microsoft will pluck another company? Bing? Huh? Hello? Are you still with us Mr. Cringely? Did you get hungry at some point and forget what you were writing about?

Some company with a new idea and no legacy products to defend will eventually arise to clean Microsoft’s clock.

Mark Cringely’s words, you Microsoft fuckers – your days of sitting around with a dirty clock are numbered. Clean their clock? Are you jockeying for Will Shortz’s job with all these old-timey references?

Or maybe Microsoft’s market will simply disappear as PC’s are subsumed into cars and mobile phones, possibly leaving Windows behind in the process. Whatever happens, it won’t be Google’s doing because Google is too busy defending its own turf to seriously encroach on Microsoft’s.

Cringely’s argument: At some point, Microsoft will be rendered irrelevant, but it won’t be replaced by Google, because Google isn’t trying hard enough, because all of the projects that Google is releasing aren’t actually serious, because it doesn’t make sense for Google to be serious, because mutually assured destruction and not enough employees and Google even says its products aren’t that good and I’m a psychopath and the Phillies won the world series last year and fuck Milton Friedman and cheese cheese cheese cheese.

And don’t forget Apple

DON’T FORGET APPLE! They have a reason to try seriously in projects that Google isn’t trying seriously in because they’re a company motivated by profit and not a cabal of nefarious individuals plotting to sabotage Windows in an obvious and illegal way.

which with the iPod and iPhone has shown an ability to revolutionize markets other companies saw as mature. Microsoft and Google have yet to do something like that.

Well, Microsoft and Google revolutionized markets that didn’t even really exist, which might be harder, and they’re trying to revolutionize existing markets. I mean, yeah, Apple is another competitor, who is trying to release products that people will use, what the hell is your point?

I wish they would. I wish these companies had more guts,

I like companies with guts. Fuck stocks and strong balance sheets and good management and good systems for encouraging employee innovation. I want to walk into a company and just have guts everywhere. I want the walls made of guts. I want the computers made of guts. I want the smell of guts to linger on my crisp wool suit after I return home, and when I fuck my wife I want her to scream “Oh yeah, I love it when you smell like guts you gutsy corporate man” and I’ll name my kid Gutsy Gutsterson but hopefully they won’t be a real kid and just a big gut.

that either would make a true bet-the-company investment in changing the world, but they won’t.

How would Google even make a bet-the-company investment? The company is worth billions of dollars – should they take out billions of dollars in debt to fund some super project that has a high risk of failure, forcing them to sell the company if it does fail? Do you understand that most successful tech companies started really small, and that maybe it makes sense to fund lots of small projects? Hell, even if Google had a fantastic idea, they could allocate all of their profits to it and still probably have money left over. Is this a big joke? Tell me this article is just a big joke.

Google engineers are allowed to spend 20 percent of their time on new ideas — yet of those thousands of ideas, the company can really invest in only a dozen per year, leading to dissatisfaction and defections as the best nerds leave to pursue their dreams.

First half of paragraph: Google’s problem is that it doesn’t have the guts to make one big change the world investment.

Second half of paragraph: Google doesn’t spend enough money funding every single shitty idea that its engineers come up with.

Factor that does not concern Cringely: Google is ranked the fourth best place to work, by Forbes, in 2009.

Maybe they’ll leave for the startup that finally topples Microsoft … or Google. But until then these companies will posture, spend a little money on research and development, and keep each other in check, while reporters and publications pretend that it matters.

Fine, Robert, you’re right. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter at all. So please never write about it again.


6 Responses to “Square peg, round hole: Cringely”

  1. 1 JSC5 July 16, 2009 at 12:19 am

    Ahh, the Internet is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it pipes Cringely’s idiocy straight into millions of innocent homes. Impressionable homes. Homes with children. On the other hand, it lets just any schmo (like you) destroy his argument in a public forum. In a just world, an NYT editor would stumble across this post and start to reassess their personnel decisions.

    Excuse me while I go do all my google searches for the week — before Bill goes nuclear. Or Apple shows up. Or something.

  2. 2 toan hoc July 16, 2009 at 12:55 am

    Very impressive. Thank you.

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    holy shit, awesome, can you do this for every article?

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This is a group blog. JSC5 currently writes from the US. JSC7 writes from behind the Great Firewall of China.

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