Welcome to your life
There's no turning back
Even while we sleep
We will find you
Acting on your best behavior
Turn your back on Mother Nature
Everybody wants to rule the world.
-- Tears for Fears
It's the end of the world as we know it ... I feel fine.
Does Microsoft want to rule the world?
Does Microsoft already effectively run the world?
Should we be worried?
No to all three. But they are relevant and timely questions. Consider the following.
MYTH: The Internet, the Web and/or the "network computer" will cripple/kill Microsoft by reducing or eliminating our dependence on graphical operating systems, bloated applications and "fat client" software.
FACT: Microsoft's Internet Explorer, Windows NT software for Web and intranet clients and plans to "browser-enable" all its applications means we'll be seeing Bill Gates around for a long time. Fortunately, at least Netscape and IBM plan to stick around long enough to keep Microsoft from becoming the world's first "soft monopoly."
MYTH: Microsoft's gonna take over the world by leveraging its position in computing into similar dominant positions in publishing, broadcasting, etc., etc., etc.
FACT: True, the MSNBC network does go on the air this summer, and Microsoft's "Slate" magazine's already on the Web, and probably coming to a newsstand near you Real Soon Now as well. But come on -- MSNBC's a cable network, so ubiquity's still a tad out on the horizon. And Slate's initial reviews are relatively kind, but neither world-beating nor earth-shattering.
MYTH: I don't care, I tellya, Microsoft's at least gonna take over the parts of the world dependent on mainstream personal and workgroup computing. (And they're gonna bankrupt the phone companies and ISPs with direct satellite access to the Web and video gaming, too!)
FACT: Re-read the above, then calm down, move out of Mom's basement and GET A LIFE AND A REAL CONCERN. (Like, for example, where will UNIX and those who make their livings with it be five years from now, or who's gonna help us start using technologies like the Web to reform campaign financing and re-educate the un- and under-employed -- but I digress ...)
The fact is, Microsoft seems to be well on its way to becoming the Westinghouse or General Electric of the next few decades -- the company which has its name on lots of products and services, without conjuring up dire images of world domination.
It's very likely that Microsoft will continue to grow, prosper, dominate some markets and buy its way into others. But if anything's driving Bill Gates and crew, it's more the desire not to be blind-sided than it is to rule the world or any significant portion thereof.
Examples of companies in similar positions abound, from the Big Three auto manufacturers to networking companies like Cisco Systems and the parts of Sun Microsystems and SunSoft focused on the Web and intranets. Each of these is a dominant provider, kept honest by a near-constant stream of new competitors. Some of these grow to be serious challenges, some find niches they can thrive in indefinitely (like Ambrosia, for example), some partner with the dominant provider(s), some partner with one another, some get bought, and some do all of the above over time.
Meanwhile, the Microsofts of the world get to spend tons of money developing new technologies, fighting the FTC and governments lackadaisical about anti-piracy laws, growing the market for computing generally, and doing all that other stuff smaller companies have yet to demonstrate the ability to accomplish, alone or in groups.
Perhaps the coolest thing is, the very dynamics contributing to Microsoft's continuing expansion also continue to create niches and markets for companies like Ambrosia. Microsoft's existence also creates a sort of Full Employment Act for other software developers, system integrators, hardware vendors, consultants, and even we members of the industry's "punditocracy."
Is Microsoft the perfect dominant player in the brave new world of information technology? No, but it's not alone, and we could do worse. Am I now a huge Microsoft fan? With reservations and caveats galore, I am a moderately-sized fan. Am I glad they exist? Definitely.
Michael Dortch has written, talked and thought about new technologies and their effects on people and businesses for almost 20 years. He is based in San Francisco, and welcomes comments at email@example.com. Drop him a line if you'd like to receive his free newsletter, "Information Superhighway Vista Points."