<Error Message>: Sending Anyone Into War With a Microsoft Product
A month or so after a group of Microsoft employees asked their bosses to bail out of a $480 million military contract on grounds of morality, the company sort of responded this week by announcing it has taken steps that could facilitate future and bigger military deals.
No surprise there. The military industry, like every other enterprise from garden tools to frozen yogurt, knows its future lies in technology, and Microsoft sits way up at the top of the technology pyramid.
For that reason alone, a divorce between Microsoft and the Department of Defense (DOD) is about as likely as Donald Trump replacing Mike Pence with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on his 2020 ticket.
That does not mean, however, that the protesting Microsoft employees were wrong.
On the contrary, everyone who has ever used a Microsoft product knows they were right. They were just focusing on the wrong reason.
Not to downplay any challenge to the morality of war, the more crucial question is this: Knowing what we all know about Windows, the most basic and widely used Microsoft product, would you really want to rely on a Microsoft creation in a life-or-death situation?
You’ve under attack from incoming mortar fire. You reach for your high-tech Microsoft counter-tools. In the middle of your screen a little white cursor spins in an unending circle.
You feel the ping of sniper fire. You dive for cover and pull out your Microsoft HoloLens2, the high-tech 3D vision system for which the DOD paid Microsoft that $480 million. You’re looking for intel on the sniper’s position. You get a message that says, “Installing 1 of 4 updates. Do not power off.”
You receive reports that a column of insurgents is approaching your left flank. You move to call in counterstrikes and your Microsoft device says, “Connection failure. Click here to close.”
You’re on patrol. You spot suspicious movement. Your virtual HoloLens2 screen says, “Do you want to run this program?.”
Microsoft released its first Windows operating systems on Nov. 1, 1985. That’s slightly over 33 years ago, and as every Windows user everywhere can attest, they still haven’t gotten it right. Whole chunks of it still feel as if they were designed for the amusement of the geeks in the programming department, not for regular human beings.
Based on what we civilians know about the user-friendliness of Microsoft products, frankly, we’d be better off sending soldiers into a combat zone with products designed by Hasbro.
True, that’s not realistic. Also true, Microsoft is all lined up to very soon get an even bigger DOD contract: the $8.2 billion Defense Enterprise Office Solution, which would move DOD functions like email and calendar collaboration into the cloud.
Not by coincidence, Microsoft announced Thursday that Microsoft Teams, the company’s “collaboration platform,” is now conveniently available “in the Department of Defense environment.”
The Office Solution project, while it dwarfs the HoloLens2 deal, presumably will stir less internal concern at Microsoft.
The employees who protested the HoloLens2 contract were concerned that while the nominal purpose of the HoloLens2 is communication and sharing of intelligence, it could be used to make killing more efficient, which is a fair point. You sell a tool to the military, it’s no stretch to figure it could be weaponized.
The real problem, of course, is that war itself is a global industry, so entrenched and pervasive it makes Microsoft look like a Mom-and-Pop. Saying no to that industry would be a wonderful gesture that would not, alas, lead any time soon to a world where Microsoft could focus on developing a Windows operating system that simply worked.