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"Bill Gates, did you or did you not build intrusive little user prompts into ever square inch of Word?"

"Bill Gates, did you or did you not build intrusive little user prompts into every square inch of Word?"

My business partner, Gerry Giambattista, and I both want to be named hanging judges if there is ever an international war crimes tribunal assembled to consider the cumulative havoc that Microsoft has unleashed on the world since its inception. We have a long list of questions for Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer, which we will present as intrusive yellow pop-up panels, not unlike those that used to populate a Word document whenever the masters in Redmond, WA wanted to anticipate which word you were attempting to type, so they could replace it with another. Forget all the people Microsoft employs in all its divisions. Forget all the good that the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has done around the globe. Forget the excellent X-Box gaming platform. This is personal.

Admittedly, we are long-time Apple products users, so we should probably recuse ourselves. However, we have both harbored long-time grudges against the software industry, Microsoft specifically, and would like a chance to settle the score in a Hague-like setting.

We know of no other industry that is allowed to operate so capriciously, integrating itself into the daily operations of essentially every business on the planet, then forcing users to routinely jump through crazy hoop after crazy hoop, because of software incompatibility (often between different versions of the same product), security issues, constant debilitating updates and key feature changes with little logic behind them, all with few other options for workarounds.

My teeth are set grinding every time I hear a commercial on my car radio for the Business Software Alliance targeting employers who run unlicensed copies of software or who pirate programs. How about if the software industry starts policing its own myriad of customer and tech service issues before spending millions to get employees to rat out employers for possible violations. Normally, I appreciate the bravery of whistle blowers — here I envision an entire accusatory industry dressed as Captain Hook. Pot, kettle, black.

This is also an industry that devours its own. Competitors are routinely driven out of business or marginalized, not because they are lackluster, but because they make a better product that is harming the product that the bigger company makes (usually Microsoft). Case in point is Word Perfect, which many eons ago was the preferred word processing software for virtually everyone operating a business. Then, along came Word, which Microsoft bundled as an enticement with Excel, PowerPoint, and Entourage or Outlook as an Office suite. It took many years for Word to resist its urge to interrupt users every other keystroke with “innovative” efficiency-enhancing features. We all had to endure years of that nonsense. Today, Word Perfect is still available from Corel, but it appears to be a niche product for legal professionals.

Anyone remember Netscape Navigator? It was the preferred web browser of many users during the 1990s until Microsoft did everything possible to torpedo it with Internet Explorer.

That brings me to a moment of great personal satisfaction that will have to suffice until that international tribunal is assembled. Advertising Age was good enough to spotlight a parody last week of Microsoft’s self-congratulatory Internet Explorer TV spot. In this case, the parody does a better job of delivering truth.



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With all the turbulent changes the advertising industry has undergone in recent years, one constant has been a welcome distraction — the hilarious, note-perfect commercial parodies that Saturday Night Live churns out every show and every season. SNL has undergone its own annual turbulence of cast changes, topical content challenges, and guest host chemistry issues. Yet every season, a different cast produces a number of gems that tweak real commercials or use the prism and familiar formats of advertising to tackle current news stories.

NBC has produced entire specials of these special thirty-second clips and now has an amazing archive of this rich comic material. Breakfast cereals are popular subjects. From John Belushi’s unlikely Olympic athlete powered, not by Wheaties, but “Little Chocolate Donuts.” To the fiber-over-rich, can-you-match-the number-of-bowls laxative power of  “Colon Blow.” But there are so many others, from the all-clay, moldable Adobe car that repairs itself, to the Change Bank that addresses all our needs of exact coinage, to Wade Blasingame, the attorney who will sue dogs.

This season, two spots have done an amazing job of capturing the Zeitgeist. One is all about the pleasures and dangers of social media and its expansion beyond the college campus.

The other combines the allure of those late night chat line come-on spots with the need to diffuse the anger over ever-more intrusive airport security screening procedures.

The next time someone wonders whether advertising is still relevant in the digital age, tell them not to taunt Happy Fun Ball. Then, hit them with a Nerf Crotchbat.

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