Gangway for Microsoft! Say you’re on a mountain road pushing the pedal to the metal and right on your tail is an eighteen-wheeler going ninety miles per hour and closing. The rules of the road are clear. Speed limits were written for those juggernaut giants and us compacts alike.
But when it comes to Microsoft, the rules of the road no longer hold. Worse, they somehow get rewritten in the process. Take for example the case of a small Internet provider near Chicago, Dhiren Rana of SyNet, who dared to stake his claim to the term ‘Internet Explorer’ back in 1994. And was brought to ruin for his presumption.
Microsoft’s flotilla of highly paid lawyers must have been too busy fighting everyone from Apple to the DOJ to notice that they were sticking a previously registered moniker on their much-hyped web browser. When the rightful owner had the temerity to put forth his claim, those crafty, expensive lawyers were outraged.
“That little guy has no right to trademark such a generic name!” They wailed. “Why it’s no better than trying to own ‘cola’, or ‘aspirin’ or… or… ‘chocolate fudge’! Is he trying to appropriate the English language?” Cross my heart. That’s what they said. With straight faces.
“What’s all this about appropriating the English language?” You scoff. “Why I was washing ‘windows’ when Billy G. was in diapers!”
“And,” you scratch your head, “wasn’t there something last fall about Microsoft threatening to pull the plug on anyone foolish enough to use the letters NT?” Yep. Guess when the big boys do it, it doesn’t count.
“But,” you ask, “doesn’t Microsoft see a bit of a non sequitur here? Aren’t their faces just a little bit red? Isn’t this pretty blatant even for Big M?” Nope. “That’s gotta be the apogee of arrogance!” you gasp. But wait… there’s more…
After cleaning the poor guy out and finally wearing him down (as he says, two years is a long time for anyone to fight Microsoft), he cried ‘Uncle’. Guess who plans to ‘appropriate the English language’ now?
It’s not only shameless… it’s downright Scary.
Which leads us into this grisly tale. Only the species are changed to protect the innocent. (Hey! We don’t want to spend the next two years in court, either.)
ARE YOU AFRAID OF THE SHARK?
(How About A Giant Squid?)
The kids came clattering through the woods and squatted down by the campfire, ready for goosebumps and ghost stories. “Our tale tonight,” began the evening’s storyteller, “is about a teeny tiny man who lived in a teeny tiny house in a teeny tiny…”
“Aw,” muttered a couple of kids, “heard that one back in kindergarten.”
“Hush Up!” ordered the rest. (What they really said was ‘shut your trap’, but that was a word our mother never allowed.) “Hush up and listen.”
“Okay. So there was this teeny tiny man,” began the storyteller once more, “who lived in a teeny tiny house in a teeny tiny corner of a teeny tiny web. One day the teeny tiny man took a teensy stroll down a tiny strand of the embryonic web. And there he had a giant of an idea.
The web was a new and scary place where visitors all too often got lost. Being lost in a web is no laughing matter. You might be stuck fast on a dead-end trail. Trapped forever in a twisted maze. Eaten by a passing spider.
Now our teeny tiny man felt quite at home exploring the byways of this thing called ‘Internet’. Perhaps, he thought, he could become a guide for others, saving them from a sticky end and earning his daily bread at the same time.
That evening he ventured down a teeny tiny path to the very heart of the new-spun web. And there he made his mark: a teeny tiny ‘X.’ Proudly, he claimed it as his own. Open and above board. For all the world to see.
Poor little man. He knew all about the spiders that lurked on the web. But he knew nothing about the sharks of the sea and less about the ravening Giant Squid.
He took his duly registered X back home, tucked it under his pillow and proceeded to lead others through the perils of perusing the web. From the Library to the Town hall, he soon brought his small corner of the Web alive.
His teeny tiny business was booming and his teeny tiny larder full of bread, butter and even a dollop or two of honey. And, for a teeny tiny time, life was sweet. He did not notice the shadows that followed him across the web and were, even now, reaching wraithlike through the cracks of his teeny tiny house.
One night he closed his teeny tiny shutters, locked his teeny tiny door and climbed into his teeny tiny bed. He was almost asleep when he heard a teeny reedy voice blowing in his ear.
‘Give me back my teeny tiny X!’ sighed the voice, scratching at the Windows®. ‘Or else!’
“Not on your Aunt Nellie!” said the teeny tiny man, sitting straight up in bed and staring into the teeny tiny corners of his room. “‘Tis my very own mark, duly registered, and my bread and butter as well.”
Poor little man. He did not see the shadows on the wall. Must have been a teeny tiny nightmare, he thought, and drifted back to sleep.
‘Give me back my teeny tiny X!’ growled the voice echoing in the hall. ‘Think you can appropriate the English language or what???’
The teeny tiny man sat bolt upright, clutching the covers about him. And there, in the passage, he saw shadowy tentacles creeping slowly toward the bedroom. Now the teeny tiny man was as small as an iMac mouse, but his courage was as large as an ancient mainframe.
He raised his voice a tad and said, “Not on your Aunt Nellie’s nose-ring! ‘Tis my very own mark, duly registered, and my bread and butter as well.” And he lay back down hoping the voice was nothing more than a bit of butter gone rancid in his teeny tiny tummy. But just as he was wavering on the edge of sleep, the voice came again.
‘Give me back my teeny tiny X!’ snarled the voice, right outside his bedroom door. Adding that, for his trouble, he would be rewarded with seven pieces of silver and half a loaf of stale bread.
The teeny tiny man leaped out of bed and glared at the shadows reaching across the room, for they were, after all, only shadows. Poor little man. He could not see the sharks pressing hard against the window.
“Not on your Aunt Nellie’s nightie, Buster!” He snapped. “Tis my very own mark, duly registered, and my bread and butter as well. Seven pieces of silver, my foot!”
At that, the teeny tiny man jumped back into bed, pulled the covers over his head and lay sweating in his nightshirt. It might be nothing more than a wee hallucination, but it was a darned convincing one.
‘Give me back my teeny tiny X!’
shouted the voice from somewhere near the middle of the room. ‘Or we will bring your house down about your ears.’
“Not on your Aunt Nellie’s knickers!” Snorted the teeny tiny man, hardly daring to peek out from under the blankets. “Tis my very own mark, duly registered, and my bread and butter as well.” Then, with a bit of bravado, he added, “bring down my house, will you? I’d like to see you try.”
Poor little man. Hiding beneath the covers, he could not see the giant tentacles wrapped about his rafters.
‘Give me back my teeny tiny X!’
howled a voice at the foot of his bed. ‘And,’ it added more reasonably, “you may find something to your advantage.”
“Not on your Aunt Nellie’s knock…” Knock! Knock! (“Huh?”) Oh, poor innocent lamb. He could not see the sharks with their shoulders to the window and their boots against the doorjamb.
There was a sudden pounding at the door, a shattering of glass and a horrible wrenching sound from the rafters as the roof gave way. The teeny tiny house collapsed in a teeny tiny heap. And all the lights in that corner of the Web went black.
Poor little man. He crawled slowly out from beneath the rubble. His house was gone, his larder destroyed and a flotilla of sharks had their eyes fixed on his teeny tiny throat.
“And now, my teeny tiny fellow,” simpered a giant squid towering above the ruins, its tentacles grasped firmly about the teeny tiny landscape.“Now perhaps, you will listen to reason.” And tossing a few gold pieces among the wreckage, the squid barked:
‘Give me back my teeny tiny X!’
Trembling, the teeny tiny man scrabbled among the scattered bits of his teeny tiny house, pulled out his X, duly registered before Man and God, took a deep breath and said:
“TAKE IT !!!”
Here the storyteller fell into a fit of coughing and had to stop. “So,” asked one of the girls, “that’s it? No Cavalry? No Catharsis? No Happy Ending?”
“No happy endings,” croaked the storyteller. “But there is a Moral:”
Steamrollers may grind laptops into roadkill, but the Giant Squid and his
Insatiable Sharks grind the rest of us into fishfood. To eat at their leisure.
At this a wide eyed boy, huddled near the fire, dropped his jaw and stared at the storyteller. Poor kid. Did he think this was the tale of Jack the Giant Killer? Of David and Goliath? That Right makes Might? That the Meek inherit the Earth? Did he think, oh foolish boy, that the Dark Side never wins?
THE WALL STREET JOURNAL (6/25/98)
Microsoft faces fiasco for rights to browser name
CNET NEWS.COM (7/1/98)
Microsoft settles trademark case
AS THE APPLE TURNS (6/26/98) *
‘Oh, The Humanity’
*Also see The Best of… As the Apple Turns, this issue.