Are you pondering what I’m pondering?

photoWhen did computer geeks become bent on world domination? When did the grotesque little mice employed to duplicate existing algebra onto punch cards initiate their plan to overthrow the people who created the original mathematic algorithms, business models and scientific concepts?

Computer programmers rely on shortcuts, such as assuming a predictable result is really random, that infinity has a bound, or that a year needs only two digits. The math used to write today’s most popular software was devised by physicists, engineers and social scientists during the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s. As an undergraduate computer science major in 1985, I was told to consult the three-volume big book of algorithms — the computer programmer’s Monarch notes — to answer any problem.

No company has been more successful at turning crib sheets into cash than Microsoft. The company tried to capture the healthcare world in 1995 when Bill Gates attacked the San Antonio meeting of the Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society (HIMSS) like Santa Ana storming the Alamo. Gates ordered the mainframe-steeped audience to embrace his Back Office, a repackaged collection of existing network products that intertwined the Windows NT operating system with Microsoft’s SQL Server application.

Former card-shark Gates said his products would control all of our medical data and communications. He dismayed the keynote-speech crowd by flagrantly violating HIMSS longstanding “no sales pitch” policy. In his rosy, Windows-based future, bedside physicians and nurses would be replaced by paraprofessionals equipped with PCs. Consultations would be channeled through his proprietary MSN on-line service.

“There is no doubt in my mind that you can take the most demanding hospital application and run it on PC servers,” said Gates.

Apparently that rule didn’t apply to conventions. While Gates was hyping Windows, thousands of people were stuck in the HIMSS registration line because the Microsoft Windows Back Office application used to print badges crashed. It crashed when a data integrity error occurred, exactly the type of flaw that proved the application could not be trusted with the transaction-processing load of a typical hospital.

Later in San Antonio, Microsoft announced Shared Medical Systems (SMS), a venerable provider of hospital software (soon to be part of Siemens — see page 7), had agreed to move its products over to Microsoft’s environment. In return, Microsoft anointed SMS with “Premier Support” status, tying Microsoft customer service into the existing SMS help desk. But while SMS was adhering to FDA Good Manufacturing Practices, Microsoft had no intention of creating a quality system.

John Nielson, Microsoft’s representative at the SMS press conference, suggested Microsoft was above the law. “We operate all over the world,” he said. “We’re not concerned with one small agency.”

Not that they could meet GMP. Everything Microsoft sells is based on someone else’s brainstorm. Nielson proudly pointed that out when he related how David Cutler brought Digital’s VAX VMS operating system to Redmond and called it Windows NT, and how Microsoft was raiding Oracle and Informix to get the six people in the world who could actually devise a fourth-generation SQL database application.

Is it any wonder the company’s products don’t work? Softies, as Microsoft employees are called, are a pack of shortcutting sociopaths. Company execs Gates and Steve Ballmer openly express disdain for the outside world. And now they are trying to subvert the justice system, using campaign contributions to curry political favor.

The next time you have a chance to become involved in an information system decision, think of the medical professionals and patients who depend on you. Enter the fray against shoddy software and let this be your battle cry: “Remember the HIMSS registration line!”

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