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The Software Schism

) From "La Bustina di Minerva," a column by Umberto Eco, in the
September 30, 1994, issue of the Italian journal L'Espresso.  The
column was anonymously translated into English and posted on the


Insufficient consideration has been given to the underground
religious war that is transforming the modern world:  the division
between users of the Macintosh computer and users of the
MS-DOS-compatible computers.  I am firmly of the opinion that the
Macintosh is Catholic and that DOS is Protestant.  Indeed, the
Macintosh is counterreformist and has been influenced by the
methodical path of the Jesuits.  It tells the faithful how they must 
proceed step by step to reach -- if not the Kingdom of Heaven -- the 
moment in which their document is printed.  It is catechistic: the
essence of revelations dealt with via simple formulae and sumptuous 
icons.  Everyone has a right to salvation.

DOS is Protestant, or even Calvinistic.  It allows free
interpretation of scripture, demands difficult personal decisions,
imposes a subtle hermeneutics upon the user, and takes for granted
the idea that not all can reach salvation.  To make the system work 
you need to interpret it yourself:  the user is closed within the
loneliness of his own inner torment.

You may object that, with the passage to Windows, the DOS universe
has come to resemble more closely the counterreformist tolerance of 
the Macintosh.  It's true:  Windows represents an Anglican-style
schism -- big ceremonies in the cathedral but with the possibility
of returning to DOS to fiddle with things.  With Windows, you can
still decide to allow women and gays to be priests if you want to.

And what about the machine language that lies beneath both operating 
systems?  Ah, that is the stuff of the Old Testament, Talmudic and

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