Lenin's Microsoft

Louis N Proyect lnp3 at columbia.edu
Thu Oct 26 09:30:36 MDT 1995

In the 10/31 "Village Voice", literary critic Michael Berube comments 
on the hassles of upgrading to a Pentium:

"What I didn't realize was that a computer 8 times 'better' than a 486 is 
also 8 times harder to set up, not least because this one required a 
separate set of speakers and a PCI card...Driving home that night with 
the speakers I still haven't been able to hook up properly, I realized: 
These computers are neither the engines nor the excreta of Capitalism 
'95; they are Capitalism '95. Their prices plummet daily, almost as if 
you're holding dollars in Mexico as the peso falls through the floor. 
But that's only because, on the consumption end, you're supposed to 
jump to the next higher, faster level at each stage of development: 
bigger networks, better graphics, portable minifaxes, faster access to 
more info. But as the modem speeds increase exponentially, the 
number of information providers shrinks accordingly: TCI buys Cap 
Cities, ABC buys QVC, Blockbuster buys AT&T. And up on top, an 
ever-smaller handful of people with their hands on the throttle--Bill  
Gates, John Malone, Rupert Murdoch--are making cool new 
interactive Capitalism '95 programs for us to play, complete with 
extra-synthetic memories, juiced-up joysticks, and big throttles that 
look just like theirs.

As the cyber express gathers speed, ever-larger numbers of 
increasingly powerful machines will be powered up by ever-larger 
numbers of increasingly powerless people. And everyone who can't 
afford the latest upgrade will feel their obsolescence growing with 
each passing year."

Louis: Isn't it possible that "Personal Computers" based either on the 
Wintel or Mac architecture may not be the type of computing we'll 
need under socialism. Most people don't want to be bothered by the 
hassle of installing and configuring computers. What might be 
attractive is a client-server model where everybody has an X-Windows 
terminal at home that is connected to a high-powered computer at a 
remote site. This computer has all of the software and data. Your X-
Terminal at home simply provides the mouse interface you need to 
deal with graphical data, sort of like a Mac without the hard-drive, 
CPU, etc. What this means is that planned obsolescence such as the 
kind dictated by Bill Gates and Andy Grove will be a thing of the past. 
Data and software will be determined socially. This technical 
architecture, by the way, is how the most sophisticated financial 
institutions operate today. Salomon Bros. traders have X-Windows terminals 
on their desk, not PC's. Once you separate the profit motive from technology, 
all sorts of wonderful things become possible.

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