As Alice walked down the road alone she began to have doubts about going to see the Operating System. "OS really can't be a lizard, she said aloud. "The Bios routines are nice, but they seem not to know a lot of things outside of Rom."

The road wound through valleys and shortly came to a bridge over a shallow stream. Alice stopped for a moment to watch the gently flowing water.

All of a sudden some object came darting through the water, under the bridge where she was standing, and disappeared along the stream. "I wonder what that was?" she thought. She had waited no more than a few seconds when another one came zooming by. This time Alice noticed that it was all lit up and bright. "Curious!" she thought. Then another came by, and another, and another. Some were bright, and some were dim. Other than that, they all looked the same.

"What can those be?" she asked herself. "Maybe they are fish, but they don't look like any fish I've seen." Because there seemed to be no more of them at the moment, Alice started walking down the road again.

It wasn't long before the road climbed steeply to a pass between two mountains. Alice was quite out of breath when she reached the top, but there on the other side the road ran straight to a large fort. Alice had never seen a fort, but she was certain that this was what this structure was. It had huge gates, tall stone walls, bristled with weapons, and was surrounded with barbed wire. The walls were green, and even the few windows glistened with a shiny emerald color. "My, oh my!" she thought. "Is that where the OS lives? It must be, that is where this road leads!" With that thought, she bravely started toward it.

Alice walked up to the massive door. In the middle was a small heavily shuttered window. There was a doorbell to one side and a sign that read 'SOFTWARE INTERRUPT'. "Well, I don't know what that means, but I hope it means me," she said to herself and reached forward and gave the button a long push.

After what seemed to Alice to be a long time, and just as she was wondering if she should ring the bell another time, the window opened and a gruff looking man peered out.

"What's your ID?" he demanded.

Alice hesitated for a few moments, not quite knowing what he was asking for.

"Well? Well, what is it? I haven't all day!"

"I... I... I don't know just...." Alice stammered.

"Hrumph! Don't know do you? Well, what's your handle, you know, your name then?"

"Oh, my name is Alice!"

"Funny name for a program, but then who asked me. Ok, what's the password?"

"I... I... don't have a password," stammered Alice again.

"No password, no admittance!" And he started to shut the window.

"Please, I've... I've come a long way—a very long way—just to see the OS. Are you the OS?" pleaded Alice.

"Why should you want to know?" he asked gruffly, then continued in a kinder tone but with a scowl, "You came to see me? Why? Who told you about me anyway?"

"I just came from Rom," Alice said, "The people there...."

"They should know better, I'm supposed to be the one to send things for them to do. No one is supposed to load a program without me knowing about it!" he said rather angrily. "I am the great and powerful OS!" He peered at Alice for a few seconds, then added in a calmer tone, "Well, you're here—might as well come in. Just a moment." With that he shut the window before Alice had a chance to say a word. There was a clanking sound and shortly the massive door swung open enough for Alice to squeeze through. "Hurry up! Get in here!" he said, and Alice hurried through the opening. She had not even had a chance to look around when the door slammed shut with a loud bang. "Never can be too careful—no telling what is out there trying to pry," he said. "You say you came from Rom?"

"Oh, yes," Alice replied. "But before that I met so many nice and not so nice people and programs and...."

"Which road did you take?" he asked suspiciously.

"The one that I was on—the one that came through the valleys and across the bridge with the bright fish...."

"Aha, you crossed the bit stream! You didn't short it out did you?"

"No, no, I don't think so. People tell me I am not at all short but rather tall for my age."

"You don't have a horse with you?" he asked.

"A horse? No, of course not!"

"Hrumph! Never can be too careful. You would be surprised at the attempts to sneak a Trojan horse into the Operating System. They even tried painting one all sorts of colors and patterns hoping I will drop my guard for a moment and just think it was a horse of a different color and let it in. But I was too smart for them."

"Why would anyone want to sneak in a Trojan horse?" asked Alice.

The OS looked at her very strangely for a few long moments, and Alice was beginning to feel very uneasy when he finally responded. "They are all out to get me! They know I am in control and they are all envious—that's it, they are all jealous. They want power, but I'm the all powerful OS!"

"Well, you really do seem powerful," replied Alice. "What with this tremendous fortress."

"Thank you. You do seem like such a bright program. Come on in to my throne room."

Alice followed him into a large room. "Sit down," he said pointing to a large chair. He sat down in a large elaborate throne at one end of the room.

Alice looked around for a few moments and finally said, "I didn't notice any guards or soldiers outside, and there seems to be no one here but us."

"Once I did have some servants, but I sent them all away—couldn't trust them, you know. I know they were trying to infect me with a nasty virus."

"Oh dear, it seems so unlikely that anyone would want to hurt...."

"Don't you believe me?" he interrupted with a scowl.

"Of course, I do!" replied Alice quickly. "It is just that I find it hard to imagine that.... I mean.... You do such important work here," she finally managed hoping to change the subject.

"Who told you that?" he demanded.

"Uhh, the Bios...."

"They always talk too much. 'A slip of the lip can sink a chip!' Information should be hidden except when needed, and I dare say, most programs really do not need as much data as they think they do."

"Well, the Bios did say that you were a great boss."

"They did, did they?" And he smiled, then frowned. "They probably said that just to get on my good side.

"Oh, I'm certain they...."

"There is only one thing to be certain about—most, no all, programs are real idiots and not to be trusted. They need me just to keep them from getting in trouble. And even I can't help every one of them. Some are just too ill behaved."

"I see," said Alice, although she didn't really understand all that he was saying. "Perhaps, you could tell me more about what you do...."

"Why do you want to know?" he interrupted, peering suspiciously at Alice. "Are you a spy, or worse yet a trace program?"

"Oh no! I have met so many interesting, ahh, programs and people, and.... Well, I am interested in...."

"You don't look like a trace. Say, have you ever bypassed the Operating System? Are you a well behaved program or are you one of those that think they have to interact directly with the hardware?"

"I have bought things at a hardware store," answered Alice. "And I think I am well behaved for a girl my age."

"This isn't funny. If you are well behaved, then you should know that you don't joke about such things."

Alice didn't know quite what to say, so she just sat there.

After what seemed forever to poor Alice, the OS stared at her, not saying a word—and, of course, she couldn't think of anything appropriate to say. Finally, he broke the silence. "You really seem like a nice program, not like most of the others. Would you believe that they try to tell me what to do? Now really! I know what's best for them, even though they don't realize it. Just the other day I tried to change everyone's password—improves security, you know. And the ingrates objected!"

"Maybe they liked the passwords they had...."

"WHAT?" he roared, jumping out of his chair.

"...Of course, someone as smart as you surely knows what is best." she added quickly.

"You're quite right, of course," he added, sitting back down. "Programs just don't have any real understanding of what I must worry about. And users are the worst! I have to be so careful to protect them from themselves."

"I can see that that is a big job," Alice replied.

"A very big job, and if everything doesn't go right, guess who gets blamed?" And before Alice could answer, he continued, "Me! That's who. Of course, it never really is my fault. Yet, they all blame me."

At that moment a bell rang.

"What now? Another error condition I suppose. I must go take care of it—hmmm, it isn't good to leave you here alone."

"Oh, I will be all right, and I really do understand that you have your responsibilities," she said.

"Have some popcorn," he said with a strange gleam in his eye and pushed a huge bowl toward Alice as he took some.

"Thank you," replied Alice reaching in and taking a large handful. The popcorn really was quite good. She had only nibbled a few bits of the popcorn when a strange feeling came over her. "Oh, my!" she thought. "Is this going to make me grow, or maybe this is going to make me shrink?"

BACK         CONTENTS         NEXT