Microsoft has apparently shelved the "Where do you want to go today?" service mark for the fireside chat approach, so successfully employed by our best actor/presidents. Unfortunately, Gates and Ballmer aren't really among that talent. They're superb executives, to be sure, but dreadful actors. I can't look at Ballmer without thinking of the cold war cartoons of personified missles... But that's just me.
Time Magazine was kind enough to give Bill Gates some space this month for an advertisement disguised as a heartfelt opinion piece making "The Case for Microsoft." Here's Bill's lead argument for why the government should lay off:
...The tablet PC that we are developing will streamline that process. A small, lightweight, portable device, it will enable you to take notes, dictate, annotate and then seamlessly transfer everything to a PC or any other device. It will make meetings less of a chore.
Under the government's plan, however, Microsoft's tablet PC simply won't happen, because our OS and applications developers will be unable to collaborate. Almost every aspect of the tablet PC's evolution--starting with the design of handwriting-recognition applications--requires real-time collaboration between OS and applications developers....
I've tried a number of different note-taking strategies, so this particular application interests me. There are all sorts of things that a pen and paper make easy that a computer makes difficult (and vice versa), so when I spotted the CrossPad a couple years ago, I thought it would be fun to try. (It hasn't made it to my "gadget cutline" yet, perhaps because I'm not attending all that many meetings lately. My current page faults are fixed with a clean sheet of paper.)
How did the innovators at Cross manage to accomplish what Microsoft is apparently still working on, without "real-time collaboration between OS and applications developers," one wonders. (IBM helped with the software.)
An earlier go at "pen computing" was crushed by Gates' company, as chronicled in Startup: A Silicon Valley Adventure. One could argue that Palm succeeded where Go failed, because of their application-O/S collaboration (leading to a new O/S), but I don't know enough about that to comment; no Palm in my pocket, either. Of course, before the suit, Microsoft repeatedly claimed there was no close collaboration between the O/S and apps sides of the house. That was when that lie served better.
Another stellar Microsoft achievement was to "introduce" the "toolbar" back in 1991. Gates writes, "Had those toolbars been created elsewhere, they no doubt would have been patented and never incorporated into Windows."
Well, maybe. The patent scene hadn't yet gone nuts in '91. Certainly there were few patent hurdles in place to prevent Microsoft from borrowing or co-opting many of the essential components of their GUI, 10 years or so behind Xerox, Apple and others. The taken-for-granted ability to switch context has many variants.
I prefer MSWindows' alt-TAB over grabbing the mouse most of the time, and the "switch workspace" concept in HP's Xwindows and "Dashboard" implementations is much more powerful than the toolbar. (I don't know who came up with it first, but it allows switching from one screenful of windows and applications to another, with 4 or 6 multi-window displays available in an instant.)
MS' monopoly power has been usefully applied to standardizing, and disseminating many innovations, certainly. That's a long way from saying monopoly power is necessary for significant innovation, of course. Gates' claims are some strange combination of incredible, disingenuous and laughable. Perhaps he really does believe that he and his firm are the indispensable company. Success, intelligence and wisdom don't always travel together.
Paul Andrews, writing in the Seattle Times, gives an interesting history of Gates' personality, and the way he's hurting his company's case. Gates and Ballmer may have figured out that Ballmer wasn't a big improvement, as they've designated a new lightning rod for their corporate image polishing. We'll see how she does.
May 13, 2000
P.S., May 19: Steve got his big circulation magazine say, too. And he does offer one convincing argument: "...our efforts to create a new generation of PCs that easily recognize speech, handwriting and even gestures would be effectively shut down for a decade." I know I would like my computer's O/S to recognize some gestures.
Tom von Alten tva_∂t_fortboise_⋅_org