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"What television does is rent us friends and relatives who are quite satisfactory. This is quite something, to rent artificial friends and relatives right inside the house."
- Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Microsoft  
  A small piece of firmware inserted into the brain that provides data on a particular subject, or special features, for the user.  

One of the key concepts introduced in Neuromancer is the idea of a microsoft, a small piece of electronics that is inserted into a socket placed in your brain. In the novel, it is implied that this practice is new, edgy - kind of like multiple body piercings in the late 1990's.

Her destination was one of the dubious software rental complexes that lined Memory Lane... The clientele were young, few of them out of their teens. They all seemed to have carbon sockets planted behind the left ear, but she didn't focus on them. The counters that fronted the booths displayed hundreds of slivers of microsoft, angular fragments of colored silicon mounted under oblong transparent bubbles on squares of white cardboard ... Behind [one] counter a boy with a shaven head stared vacantly into space, a dozen spikes of microsoft protruding from the socket behind his ear.

"Larry, you in, man?" She positioned herself in front of him. The boy's eyes focused. He sat up in his chair and pried a bright magenta splinter from his socket with a dirty thumbnail.

From Neuromancer, by William Gibson.
Published by Phantasia Press in 1984
Additional resources -

Throughout this novel, and the ones that followed, Gibson expands on this basic idea. Microsofts can have the following kinds of features:

  • Provide basic data, like a big database of information about antiques; an antique dealer with this information at his fingertips would have a substantial advantage.
  • Provide data plus some computational ability, like a chip that could translate from one language to another.
  • Provide some sort of additional functionality, like the capacity to see if another person were bugged. A perfect analogy to this kind of microsoft is the small camera that fits into a Pocket PC. The base of the camera is a compact flash card with data space, software and the electronics needed to capture the image; the top part is the camera itself, with eyepiece and charge couple device to make the original light capture.
So where did Gibson get the name?

For those who don't recall, Microsoft Corporation was not always a corporate giant; at the time the author wrote this book, Microsoft was one of the many small companies that made software for those newfangled microcomputers. Microsoft the company was started in the mid-1970's; the company name was registered in 1976 and went public in 1986.

Just a couple of years before this novel was written, most software for microcomputers came in a plastic bag with a disk and some photocopied instructions (if you were lucky).

Compare to chiphead, from Nanotime, by Bart Kosko.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Neuromancer
  More Ideas and Technology by William Gibson
  Tech news articles related to Neuromancer
  Tech news articles related to works by William Gibson

Microsoft-related news articles:
  - Chips In Your Head - Artificial Brain Prosthesis Under Development
  - Brain Coprocessor Platform Needed
  - Cyborg Rats Have Digital Brain Parts
  - Neurological Engineering - Creating Silicon Substrates For Brain Replacement

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