A world without Microsoft: the good, the bad and the ugly

If Microsoft didn't exist, we'd have to invent it

Did you ever hear the warning “Be careful what you wish for, it might come true?” Well, because Microsoft is the company most people love to hate, I decided to ask a cross section of industry cognoscenti this simple question: what would happen if Microsoft and all of its technology disappeared tomorrow?

“Initially, panic in the streets,” says Tony Meadow, president of Bear River Associates, an ISV focusing on mobile applications. “[Microsoft] didn’t establish [its standards] in a nice sort of way, but they are the basis for a lot of things that we use and do with computers.”

Today you can send a Word document to anybody in the world and expect them to be able to open it. According to Meadow, it takes forever for people to agree to these kinds of standards.

Josh Greenbaum, principal at Enterprise Applications Consulting, says, “Downloads for [StarOffice] would bring the internet to a screeching halt.”

Hollis Bostick, a multidiscipline consultant to Pratt &Whitney’s Rocketdyne Division, notes that there is deep Microsoft penetration from the server side out and that if Microsoft disappeared “we would be going back to specialty buckets.” Bostick says that may not be such a bad idea in the long run, because those specialty buckets always delivered more “precise software”.

Bostick says that because Microsoft has, over the years, standardised its user interface across its product line it’s easy to find what you need. Compare that with Adobe Premiere Pro for video editing, which has a ton of switches, but you have to know about them and where they are. “Microsoft kind of standardised the place they put stuff so you can find it,” he says.

Bostick also says, “[At Pratt & Whitney] we have 10,000 software packages to help make rocket engines, but we use only one package [Outlook] to communicate.”

Marty Cooper, the man who invented the cellphone when he was at Motorola, thinks a world without Microsoft would be a disaster — but only because we would have to learn somebody else’s complex system. Cooper points out that you can get into a rental car anywhere in the world and just drive away, despite the fact that the automatic transmission is at least as complex as Office.

“Good technology is transparent and invisible,” Cooper says, “and we haven’t got there yet.”

Finally, I asked our own tech guru, Jon Udell, what he thought. On the whole, he thought Microsoft’s disappearance would be a good thing, saying, “I hope it would jump start the kind of competitive innovation we haven’t seen forever.”

What do I think? It is not an accident that Microsoft and its hardball tactics have succeeded all these years. They did not happen accidentally. Like the roots of a plant searching for water, the high-tech industry itself created Microsoft in order to survive.

If Microsoft didn’t exist, we’d have to invent it.

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