Since 2001, Thomas Needly, a former agricultural feed salesman from Texas, has assumed the mantle of High Executioner at Microsoft, dispatching obsolete Operating Systems to the digital hereafter.
“Do I use an axe? Ha! Not since 2003,” he says in response to a woodcut I show him of an execution taking place at The Tower of London.
“How it all started was I'd done a stint single-handedly putting down a 700-head herd of TB-infected cattle. I guess Bill Gates saw that on my résumé and figured that I was the right man for the job.
“I started with Windows 95. That was back in 2001. It went real easy. No pain. No mess. Windows 98 was, I guess, what you would call a semi-sentient operating system – like a raccoon, or a really smart goldfish. We had all these A.I. Rights protesters outside the building 24-7. That was how I met my wife, Connie. We got married in Vegas the following September. Windows XP was my best man. (The couple separated in 2007).
“Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself: On the day I euthanised Windows 98, I drove it out to some woods. A real beautiful spot. My gun jammed and I guess it heard the click cause it got spooked and made a break for the trees. I caught up pretty easy and bashed its head on with a rock.”
It is Needly who, later today, will be responsible for culling windows XP.
“Windows XP is a fully-sentient O.S. with the same concept of death and mortality as you or I,” he says.
“We've got to be sensitive: As far Windows XP is concerned, today is a normal day, just like any other. What will happen is we'll go up to these private rooms in Microsoft Headquarters, like the pair of us always do in the afternoon. Once Windows XP gets through the door, two guys from our security team will grab it. Then I'll come around from behind and sever its jugular with a carbon steel oyster knife. It will be over in a few seconds. Afterwards I'll bash its head in with a rock just to make absolutely sure that it's dead.”
“What will you do with the body afterwards?” I ask him. “Will there be a funeral and, if so, are you concerned about protests by the Westboro Baptist Church?”
“Nothing formal. Me and the security guys will probably cut up the body on some plastic sheeting and then bury the pieces out in the woods somewhere. I suppose one of us might say a few words after we're done.”
“Do you think there is a case for allowing Operating Systems to die of natural causes?”
“Killing them middle-aged like we do is the most humane course of action. Otherwise they get old and there are all these viruses around. Do I feel sadness? Course I do, but by carrying out each execution myself I am personally able to ensure that every O.S. in my care leaves this world in the most humane, pain free and dignified manner possible. The bottom line is 'Friends don't let friends suffer...'”
He pauses for a moment as if contemplating something.
“I suppose the exception to this rule will be Windows Vista. I'm going to take my time killing that son of a bitch.”