REDMOND, WA: In an amazing turnaround, Bill Gates announced that Windows 98 will include a free six-pack of Coca Cola brand soft drink within every box. Previously, Microsoft had planned to bundle "Microsoft Cola" but anti-trust talks with the Justice department put a damper on that idea.
"This is a real blow to the consumer," Microsoft CEO Bill Gates stated in a press conference. "Microsoft Cola is what the consumers wanted and now they aren't going to get it."
However, consumer groups point out that Microsoft Cola has less than half the nutritional value of Coca Cola products and includes "annoying" advertising on each 8-oz. bottle. Worse, consumers must sign an agreement to not purchase a competitor's product in order to legally be allowed to drink Microsoft Cola.
"There's nothing unusual here," Gates was quoted as saying in explanation of the bizarre practice. "It's just a simple modification of standard software licenses. Besides, we must protect our monop -- I mean, our business."
Like software license agreements, which exempt software companies from liability for any reason, Microsoft's "Cola" agreement also does not actually grant the consumer ownership of the cola, only a license, revokable at any time. A Microsoft representative summarized, "You basically own the bottle."
Even that may not be exactly true, according to some consumer groups, who point out that to qualify for an "upgrade" to Microsoft Cola 99, due in second quarter 1999, one has to turn in all previously purchased bottles. "What if I forget a bottle at Aunt Mary's?" griped one customer. "Does that mean I can't upgrade?"
Consumers also complain that Microsoft still will not confirm whether or not Microsoft Cola is Year-2000 compliant. In a statement, Gates wrote "most users will have upgraded by that time so it won't be an issue."
Some consumers say Microsoft's pricing is unfair, pointing out that competitors Coke and Pepsi charge the same as Microsoft but deliver 12 ounces of liquid.
Microsoft defends its product, saying that consumers wanted "a smaller, more portable bottle." Gates also claims that Microsoft Cola is healthier because there's less of it. "We spent millions on compression research into order to pack the same amount of cola into a smaller container. Now all that's for naught if we can't ship the product."
The controversy over competing cola standards has evolved into the largest anti-trust suit in decades. The ramifications are huge for many technology companies dependent upon Microsoft products. In boardrooms across the country CEOs watch the daily soap opera with the nervousness of rats on the Titantic.
"Without Microsoft pushing a standard, our company didn't know which way to go," stated the CEO of a large computer maker in Texas, who preferred to remain nameless. "It's a relief that they've finally made a decision and chosen Coke."
Other manufacturers aren't so content. "What if I don't like Coke? What if I want Pepsi? Or Dr. Pepper?" stated a California CEO. "It's not fair for them to force these kind of decisions on consumers."
Still unresolved is the debate over whether cola is a separate product from Windows 98. Gates claims that the two are inseparable. "Microsoft Cola is an essential part of the Windows 98 experience," he claims. "Customers need energy and refreshment to deal with the troublesome installation process and constant crashes that accompany a new operating system. Besides, the boot time is so long on the new version that we don't want customers fainting from thirst while they wait."
Bundling Coke with Windows 98 is a terrible blow to Coca Cola rival Pepsi, which had been courting Microsoft for months.
"Gates stabbed us in the back," a Pepsi representative stated. "We nearly had a deal signed on a number of occasions, but he kept stalling and making up excuses. We basically sent him truckloads of product and got stood up for the prom."
Pepsi would not comment on possible litigation over the matter.
Gates declined to comment on the Pepsi allegations.