Computer users are forever being misled, successfully lied to, sold “old wine in new bottles,” bamboozled in a myriad ways large and small. Why? Simply because we are, to use the technical term,suckers. Not always as individuals, but certainly collectively. The defining attribute of the sucker is, of course, an inability to learn from experience. And it seems that meaningfully learning from our mistakes is a foreign concept to us. Nay, it is anathema. The darkest heresy imaginable. Something no one would bring up in polite company. Something only spoken of by rabid crackpots, on their lunatic-fringe blogs, during full moon.
We will happily savor the same snake oils again and again, every time the same non-solutions to the same non-problems – because we refuse to learn from the past. And much of the history of personal computing can only be understood in light of this fact. For instance, we appear to have learned nothing from theGIF debacle. Unisys tried to use software patents to impose a tax on all Internet users, and everyone jumped ship from GIF to other graphics formats – ones supposedly out of the reach of patent trolls. As thoughanything could be safe from the well-funded and litigious while software patents remain legal. So nearly everyone switched to PNG and the like, and the storm died down. And no one learned the real lesson, which is that the whole notion of a Web “format” was a fundamental mistake.
And nowformat wars rage once more – this time over video codecs. Patent trolls smell the blood and fear of lucrative, juicy prey: YouTube et al. Web users and content providers live in terror, dreading the day when they will have to switch video codecs. As we all know, this is an exceedingly unpleasant process. First, the web browser or server must be lifted on hydraulic jacks. Then, its hood is opened, and greasy mechanics will grimly crank the codec hoist, lifting the old video engine out from its moorings. The vacant compartment must be scrubbed clean of black, sooty HTTP residue before the new codec can be winched into place.