The Dawn of a Post-Gates, Post-Microsoft World
The depth of Microsoft loathing among our clan is perhaps only second to our penguin loving. This loathing makes sense, given that Linux and open-source people are so fiercely merit driven, and great products have failed to end Microsoft's hegemony. But times they are a changin', for a post-Gates, post-Microsoft age has already begun.
This week's media have been filled with news about Bill Gates going on a 'permanent sabbatical' of sorts from his duties as Microsoft's chairman. This move is interesting in two ways.
First, Gates will spend even more of his efforts on the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which is positive thing. He's working on important health and education issues in very poor countries. As long as Gates doesn't aim to bring the same hegemonic practices to philanthropy as he has to computing, his decision is probably positive for the world.
Second, Gates' departure may mean that the era of fat-client, monopolist-dominant computing has reached a new phase of decline. He has done his work, and it's time to pass the baton off to someone else. Gates has performed this handoff to Steve Ballmer, but, the reality is that Ballmer is cut from the same cloth as Gates and therefore is a status quo man in many ways.
That Ballmer is at the helm of Microsoft with a business-as-usual approach make Microsoft's eventual decline seem inevitable. The company's antics - FUD propaganda towards Linux and open source, foot dragging on interoperability, intentional trashing of open standards, pathetic bloatware like Windows Vista, seeking to buy its way into the Internet age via Yahoo! - show that it is looking backward rather than forwards. In many ways, companies like Google have made Microsoft's products either irrelevant or less important. Today it's Google, Apple's devices, Firefox and Ubuntu that own the zeitgeist of our current computing age - not Microsoft.
Microsoft's zenith was the release of Windows XP. The subsequent years have been almost solely a string of security breaches and misfires.
Could Microsoft regain the momentum it had in the 1980s and 1990s? Because of the dynamics of organizations, I would argue 'no'. It does seem that most organizations indeed run a course from growth to maturity and finally to decline. One might argue that a company like IBM, which went through such a huge restructuring - who would have thought IBM would be one of Linux's biggest boosters! - is an example of how an organization can rebound from a decline. Still, although IBM is a great powerhouse, today it does not have the same society-driving influence that it once had.
What is Microsoft's fate, post Gates? If Ballmer is in charge, look for more decline, because he's business as usual. The company probably has to hit some kind of 'rock bottom' before it makes real change. We may not be close to a hard thud yet, but it seems that the fate is inevitable one day.
At least we Linuxers can rejoice in the fact that the day of reckoning, when merit does matter, may not be here, but that glorious day appears closer as Microsoft bids its founder adieu.
James Gray is Products Editor for Linux Journal.
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