The Microsoft Code

04 May

It really appalls me to think that next year will be the FIFTEENTH anniversary of the issue of the Microsoft Corporation’s “Windows 95” Operating System!

When it appeared on the scene I was not immediately involved with it.

At work I was using a DEC terminal utilising Telnet to access the two programs (Tax Return production and Work Management) that we used. Our letters were still at that time given on dictation machines to Audio Typists so we didn’t need PCs for things like word processing.

At home I had an Amstrad 1640 which booted with MSDOS from which programs could be run including something called GEM which, with hindsight, looked a lot like a forerunner of Windows 95.

Only about a year after it came out I bought my first “proper” PC. It had (wow!) a 90 MHz Pentium processor, 8 Mb of RAM, a massive 500Mb Hard Drive AND Windows 95. I bought it from a company called ESCOM which had branches across the UK – the one in Peterborough worked out of the back of a store called Office World.

Just after I bought the computer ESCOM enthusiastically went bust and disappeared utterly from the scene! It was a damn good job that the PC worked perfectly and never gave any trouble – I’d have been out of pocket by about a thousand quid if it hadn’t! In fact it went on in regular use by first me and then my father until he replaced it in 2004. Even then it was only retired to my parent’s loft where I believe it still resides until I decide to start a computer museum.

The point I wish to get to from the last two paragraphs is that, on my PC at least, Windows 95 was so rock-solid that I did not EVER have to reinstall it.

The first time I had to perform THAT task was after I got my first job in an I.T. department. It would have been during 2000 because, strangely, they used to receive new PCs on a regular basis with Windows 2000 preinstalled and for reasons I never did discover, overwrote the Hard Disks with Windows 95. It may have been that my boss trusted Windows 95 and knew that it worked with all of the “mission critical” software in use throughout the company.

Whatever the reason, it was then that I discovered what the five bunches of five letters and numbers that were printed on the engraved licence that came with the Windows 95 CD were for. You had to type them in as part of the install process for the thing to work. That was all there was to it in those days – if you had a valid licence code you COULD (you didn’t of course – that would be software theft!) install Win95 on any number of PCs.

By the time I left that company early in 2004 they had moved on and we were, by then, overwriting Windows 2000 onto Windows XP machines! Windows XP had already been out for two years! The same licensing system applied to Windows 2000 as had applied to Windows 95 and the (best forgotten) Windows 98 and Windows ME that came between them. That is, you simply typed in a valid code and it started working.

The BIG change that came with Windows XP was that while you still had to enter the activation code it now had to be verified online. My first experience of this was in the I.T. Contracting job I did in 2004. It was a three week contract (that started in June and ended on Christmas Eve!) to roll out over three hundred new replacement PCs at the factories and offices of a well known luxury boat-builder in Oundle, Northamptonshire. This entailed spending a lot of time alone in a little workshop building PCs and installing Windows XP on them in batches of five at a time. Just to give you an example of the format of these codes, this is the kind of thing I was typing (it is the number for the laptop I am using right now with “*” in place of a couple of characters in each group:

P9**D – C9**X – HF**C – BT**7 – FM**J

As time went on I began to get a really spooky feeling!

I began to feel that there was a meaning to all of those codes! That I understood that meaning sub-consciously even though I could not QUITE get enough of a hold on it to think it openly. It was as if the groups of numbers and letters had a power of their own in the way that magic spells are supposed to do.

I once read a short story by Arthur C. Clarke (one of my favourite authors) entitled “The Nine Billion names of God”.

This concerned a group of Tibetan monks who have developed a special alphabet with which can be written the aforementioned Nine Billion names”. They have been about this task for centuries in the belief that when it is finished God’s purpose will be complete. Doing it all by hand they still have centuries more to go.

The story is written from the viewpoint of a somewhat sceptical computer engineer who has just installed a specially commissioned computer which will do the job for the Monks in a matter of hours. He is travelling home from the monastery and at the moment he calculates that the computer has reached the end of its “processing run”, he notices that “slowly and with no fuss, the stars were going out”!

Since I put the thought of that story together with the feeling I get when entering activation codes, I have been uneasy.

I don’t know what plans Microsoft have with regard to the universe as a whole or what its underlying purpose is – but I have now taken to nipping out of the house or office every time I activate a version of Windows.

Just to make sure that the sky is still there!


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Posted by on May 4, 2009 in Uncategorized


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