A Prediction For 2009

by SSFC on December 31, 2008

Not quite gone yet.

Which firm will be the first to file a class action against Microsoft over the New Year’s Eve Zune crash? Apparently every 30 gigabyte Zune in America is stuck on a loading screen, refusing to play music due to some bizarre Y2K-like programming error.

This would be a posterchild case of the sort that many advocates say is the merit of the class action.  Millions (well, perhaps thousands – the Zune is also a good illustration of Microsoft’s inability to get things right the first time, or the second) of people have been injured, or at least inconvenienced, in some small fashion, all suffering the same injury, none of them able to obtain legal assistance due to small damages in each individual case, against a heavily lawyered, deep pocket defendant.

A settlement, if such an action is filed, would also illustrate the problems inherent in the form, with a few lawyers and an individual named class representative getting a bonanza of millions spread among a few people, while class “members” receive coupons good for one free download, assuming they’re willing to take the time to fill out a form and mail it to a Post Office box in Oregon.

All of this assumes that the problem, reported this morning, hasn’t already been fixed.  Personally, if I owned a Zune, and Microsoft irrevocably “bricked” it, I would emulate my hero Mitchell Berns and get a default judgment in small claims court over my lunch hour, when Microsoft inevitably failed to appear.

Still, whether the inconvenience is permanent, or just one day’s duration, the Zune case is a perfect class action.  I predict that in some plaintiffs’ firm, somewhere, an associate attorney’s New Year’s has already been ruined.  Maybe I should upset my wife and do it myself tomorrow.  Does anyone here own a 30 gigabyte Zune, and are you willing to be a class representative?

Thanks to Kip Esquire for the notion.

{ 16 comments }

1 Sara 12.31.08 at 5:53 pm

My 12 year old has one and is freaking out because all his friends are heading over and he has no music–how about mental anguish? We will settle for 2 million for having to put up with him for the evening!!

2 Jason Barney 12.31.08 at 7:29 pm

Maybe the class settlement will be a free MP3 download and the attorneys will get $10M.

Good job this week, SSFC.

3 C Poorman 12.31.08 at 7:35 pm

We own 4 and have been very pleased with them – until today! Can’t wait to hear how microsoft plans to fix this one! Better yet, how long it will take them to make it right!

4 Jason Barney 12.31.08 at 8:07 pm

Don’t have high hopes. I’ve been through six Xbox 360s. Microsoft fixes them every time (if they don’t go back to the store). Their service center people are nice enough but it is an awful inconvenience to lose it for a few weeks until they send a new one.

Hopefully, these Zunes can be fixed with a user applied software patch and not by having to send it in for service.

5 gitarcarver 12.31.08 at 8:16 pm

Microsoft responds with “fix:”

http://www.zune.net/en-us/support/zune30.htm

6 SkateNY 12.31.08 at 11:45 pm

Great. Microsoft innovates a new bug, for a relatively new product (one Microsoft year is roughly equivalent to seven human years — check out the time between OS releases, e.g.), and then only discovers it when it’s too late. Procrastination (read: incompetence) seems to be one of their strengths, if not also a social skill.

Bad enough that tax payers, consumers and businesses footed a bill totalling hundreds of millions of dollars for their Y2K debacle. (Oh. We forgot the century was turning. Our bad.) Now, owners of their failed “iPod killer” have to suffer yet another insult, beyond a significant degree of insult that obtains from the simple fact of owning a Zune.

When does it end? It ends when Microsoft discovers a bug that dissolves their incompetent corporate mismanagement. Oh, wait. That bug was already discovered but, because Microsoft is Microsoft, noboday cared. Except for those zanie Microsoft Kool Aid drinkers who seem to believe that every POS Microsoft creates is touched by Midas himself.

Thanks again Microsoft. You’re nothing if not consistent.

7 Paul 01.01.09 at 1:30 am

SkateNY, blaming Microsoft for the Y2K issue is a bit like blaming a tsunami on global warming. You may not like them, but blaming them for something they didn’t cause is absolutely ridiculous.

8 Skate_NY 01.01.09 at 3:53 am

“SkateNY, blaming Microsoft for the Y2K issue is a bit like blaming a tsunami on global warming. You may not like them, but blaming them for something they didn’t cause is absolutely ridiculous.”

Uhm, here’s what’s ridiculous. Microsoft was not responsible for the calendar changing from the year 1999 to the year 2000. What they were responsible for was not building into their operating system a way to handle this. Given Windows’ ubiquity in enterprise/small business, consumers, and government — particularly since this is where Microsoft garners its billions of dollars in revenue — they had a prima facie responsibility to at least get the clock and calendar in their OS right. Fact is, they have a responsibility to get the clock and calendar right every day of every year, even when a particular day doesn’t usher in a new century. Having failed that, they cost their customers — and tax payers — hundreds of millions of dollars in losses. The fact that Microsoft is not responsible for each and every sunrise has nothing to do with this.

Did Linux have a Y2K problem? UNIX? The Mac OS? No. How did that happen? Was it an oversight on the part of the developers of these other operating systems that they didn’t promote potentially catastrophic losses on the part of their clients by neglecting to set the clock right?

Spare me your condescension. Microsoft dropped the ball on Y2K just as they dropped the ball on the Zune, and just as they’ve historically dropped the ball when their clients needed them most.

Competition breeds increasing levels of excellence. Microsoft’s complacency, due to their illegal monopolistic behaviors, enabled them to callously neglect the people who made them a monopoly in the first place.

What’s ridiculous is your premise that Microsoft is blameless because there is some vague cosmic force at work that’s responsible for Microsoft’s incompetence in dealing with what should have been a simple software issue.

Not even a nice try on your part.

By the way…Why do you think other operating systems avoided problems in keeping up with the turn of the century?

9 Richard Nieporent 01.01.09 at 9:06 am

Skate_NY, it is obvious that you are not a computer scientist. The real problem with Y2K was not the Microsoft OS but the millions of lines of code written in Cobol 10, 20 and more years before the year 2000 for life insurance, banking and similar applications. At the time the programs were written there was no expectation that companies would still be using the code. By the year 2000 it was hard to find enough programmers who even knew how to code in Cobol to go through the code to fix the problem. The problem occurred because the year was stored in two bytes so for instance if you calculated the current age of a person after 2000 you would get a negative value. So they should have use four bytes to store the complete date, i.e., 1987 and not 87? Think again. All we have done is to create a Y10K problem. We cannot distinguish between 10001 and 0001. And if they used 5 bytes they would be creating a Y100K problem! Yes there is a simple work around by including additional code to test for these conditions and correct the values. However, there was no way that was going to be done in 1980.

I guess you also want to rant against the developers of the Internet for not realizing that the IPv4 protocol would still be used almost 30 years later. They should have known that a 32 bit address space (~ 4 billion addresses) would not be enough. The cost of transitioning from IPv4 to IPv6 is going to be huge. Who do we sue for that, Al Gore? :) And of course we will have the same problem when the IPv6 address space is used up. But given the size of its address space (2^128) we may have bigger problems to worry about at that time, like the Sun going nova.

10 DAV 01.01.09 at 2:18 pm

Skate_NY, Richard is correct. I’d extend what he said. Time rollovers aren’t restricted to old COBOL programs. The 32-bit time format used by Unix and others has a rollover coming in 2038. Every program using that format will experience a problem at that time. In any case, the OS has little control over how programmers choose to represent dates.

The problem is, no matter what time representation is used, eventually it will experience a rollover. Even if the OS representation is adjusted, those programs and results will still exist.

Many programs are written with the built-in assumption of replacement before obsolescence but it’s hard to predict product lifetimes. Some bridges built by the Romans are still in use today — after only a mere millennium or two. Who would have thought?

11 Phaedrus 01.01.09 at 2:42 pm

First, to address the actual Zune issue: The bug occurs when the 30-gig Zune with relatively recent firmware is running on the 366th day of a calendar year — in other words, on the last day of a leap year. This is certainly a condition that should have been tested, so it is highly embarrassing for Microsoft that the problem was not discovered and fixed before it blew up in users’ faces. On the other hand, given the fact that it _wasn’t_ discovered before it happened, it is not at all surprising that Microsoft was not able to develop, fix, and distribute a patch in 24 hours. So Microsoft’s response — ‘We’re really sorry about that, and we’ll fix it for 2012′ — while embarrassing, is probably the only workable response (unless they choose to embellish on ‘We’re really sorry about that’ with free music downloads or something). After all, it would only compound the problem if Microsoft rushed out a new firmware version at this point, for a problem that has already resolved itself and will not occur again for another four years, and if that new firmware version had another problem that could have been caught through longer and better testing.

Second, to address the Y2K issue: Richard Nieporent is correct. Yes, Windows and other Microsoft products had Y2K-related issues, but patched versions of these products were available well before the turn of the century. If Microsoft had been the ’cause’ of Y2K, or even the major contributor to Y2K, it would have been a pretty trivial problem. By far the largest Y2K problem was old databases, which were designed decades before Y2K, by thousands and thousands of developers at thousands and thousands of different companies and government organizations.

12 Wasupwitdat 01.01.09 at 5:33 pm
13 Melvin H. 01.02.09 at 11:13 am

My God, SkateNY’s comments make me picture a little child throwing a temper tantrum at someone when his Christmas toy doesn’t work, then saying something like, “I’m gonna tell my DADDY on you! WAAAAAHHHH!”

Oh, by the way . . . “incompetent corporate management,” huh?? Let me see . . . Windows runs something like 85-90% of the computers sold. SOMEBODY thinks they’re doing something right!! :-)

Let me add (possibly) to Richard’s point back at #9: There were likely far fewer computers using “other operating systems” combined, than the number using some pre-2000 version of Microsoft (DOS or Windows). Plus, how many combinations of servers, terminals, printers, etc. companies were there that ran MS-DOS/Windows? (Again, far more than were using Linux, Apple, etc. combined.)

Much like with prescription drugs, there are so many combinations that beta-testing for every single one is absolutely impossible, and thinking of everything that could go wrong doesn’t cover something else unknown at the time going wrong (corollary to Murphy’s Law: If 12 things that could go wrong don’t, it will be the 13th that no-one foresaw that goes wrong.)

14 SSFC 01.02.09 at 11:20 am

Wassupwitdat:

Hey Skate,

You’re like a broken record. …

BURRRRRN!

15 CarLitGuy 01.02.09 at 2:01 pm

As someone who grew up with a TRS-80 using a then state-of-the-art tape drive to store programs, before graduating to an IBM “XT” based on the old 8086 chip set, I remember how expensive memory (both physical and RAM) used to be, back in the day. Space was at such a premium, if you had told your boss you were going to use a four bit word to store year data instead of the two bit word everyone else was using (in case, you know, your programs were still being used in 20+ years), you would have been looking for a job elsewhere.

Heck, I still remember my glee in discovering a version of advanced visual basic that didn’t require line numbers in my code, allowing me to save 4 or 5 characters per line of code. It doesn’t sound like much now, with 32GB thumb drives on everyone’s keychain, but being able to pare code from:

2340 Next

to simply

Next

was a huge savings in file storage requirements.

There are myriad reasons to dislike Microsoft, but the Y2K bug is a bit too remote to place at their feet, in my opinion.

16 Wasupwitdat 01.02.09 at 4:44 pm

Richard Nieporent wrote “Skate_NY, it is obvious that you are not a computer scientist.”

You wanna hear something really scary? In a post on ZDNet, he claims to be a clinical psychologist. (Shivers….) Could THAT have something to do with the increase in suicide rates?

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