Microsoft Corp’s Microsoft At Work strategy to achieve dominance of the office is breathtaking in its impudence and in the wide-eyed innocence with which the company outlines its plans for world domination – described in page five today. Ahead of the launch, analysts suggested that the initiative was not a major one, and that the […]
Microsoft Corp’s Microsoft At Work strategy to achieve dominance of the office is breathtaking in its impudence and in the wide-eyed innocence with which the company outlines its plans for world domination – described in page five today. Ahead of the launch, analysts suggested that the initiative was not a major one, and that the effect on Microsoft’s bottom line would be scarcely noticeable for a long time. But that is not the way Microsoft’s manifesto reads. In a blatant example of the premise that unto those that hath, more shall be given, the company is effectively handing over the office machine controller business to Intel Corp, and there is no question of openness in any of this: users will be able to achieve complete domination over their infuriating office equipment (most of which says more about the Japanese psyche and mentality than a library of learned tomes over could) – and all effectively for free. All they have to do is sell their souls to the devil and install Windows on their desktops.
We have never questioned the premise that half the world is emotionally attuned and superbly served by graphical user interfaces, but we maintain that there is another vast army of people out there that detest the things for their profusion of intrusive visual gunk and can’t wait to get back to the sanity and cleanliness of a command line. Moreover nothing is clearer than that Microsoft At Work is intended to consign the Apple Computer Inc Macintosh to a sad little ghetto of hopeless addicts that would rather continue to feed their sad little habit than embrace the wonderful world of Windows, even at the price of foregoing the joys of all Microsoft’s incredible new toys. Already Microsoft At Work takes the company deep into telecommunications territory for the first time – just look at the number of phone companies that are backing the thing – as well as making a with one bound you’re all free conquest of the office. But the company’s designs do not end there: once again in partnership with is soul sister Intel, the company has big designs on the living room, where Microsoft At Play is intended to be sitting there atop the television set, tirelessly bringing incredible new universes into the home. As for the competition, the quantum leap of control represented by Microsoft At Work leaves it scrambling for crumbs if the Redmond strategy succeeds. Remember how a year or three back, Xerox Corp was earnestly talking about its strategy to combine laser printers with copiers with facsimile machines and tie them all together at the desktop? Xerox articulated almost the precise concept that Microsoft is now pushing – except that Xerox was going to do it with the help of Sun Microsystems Inc, Unix and the Sparc RISC. The company has not come back to us on this yet, but it very much appears that with one blast of Microsoft’s hot breath on the back of its neck, Xerox has meekly abandoned its own strategy and agreed to throw its lot in with the way Microsoft decrees the world should be.
It cannot be denied that computers in the office have singularly failed to bring the quantum leap in productivity that was promised, nor that what Microsoft is attempting to achieve is not entirely desirable – the amount of work involved in turning something that is already in digital form into a state that can be handled by the various machines around the office is ridiculously inefficient, and Microsoft’s broad means of solving the problem looks very much like the right one. What will leave many observers feeling distinctly uncomfortable is the astonishing increase in Microsoft’s power and reach the strategy will bring if it is successful – and with the number of companies backing it and the head of steam that is already behind it, it is hard to believe that it won’t be entirely successful. It surely brings nearer the most painful anti-trust reckoning for Microsoft, because with the number of Windows desktops already out there, it is very hard to conceive of a rival system that would be more than a pale imitation and a ra
nk also-ran – even if Apple, IBM Corp and Motorola Inc were to work up a fully-fledged competitor built around the Macintosh desktop and the PowerPC. All of which makes it crucially important for the health of the industry that Sun Microsystems Inc’s Windows Applications Binary Interface for Unix and the Common Open Software Environment initiative are successful, so that even if every last piece of office equipment is keeping Microsoft royally in royalties, at least it will be possible to talk to and control all those machines from computers running operating systems that are outside the Microsoft world. Novell Inc is the current white hope of those that still hanker after a little competition surviving in the industry, but Microsoft At Work pulls an enormous flanker on Novell and gives every impression of marginalising NetWare. Yes, you can be running your Microsoft At Work control boxes on a NetWare system, but NetWare is an irrelevance: you still want it for all the things that you have already set up under it, but you emphatically don’t need it.
Another striking feature of the Microsoft At Work initiative is the number of Japanese companies that are backing it. As the spiritual home of about 90% of today’s office equipment, Japan should have created Microsoft At Work anything up to a decade ago. Yet what is striking about Japan – in sharp contrast to all the publicity with which we have been fed that the whole country works as a single team to the benefit of Japan Inc – is how temperamentally incapable the Japanese are at truly working together and backing an independent standard. If Matsushita Electric Industrial Co and Sharp Corp had teamed to come up with the equivalent of Microsoft At Work, Fujitsu Ltd, Sony Corp and Ricoh Co would immediately have come up with an incompatible alternative, NEC Corp and Hitachi Ltd would have half-heartedly backed one or the other or even created a third standard, and all would have failed. Japan wins when it comes to the sealed box – the Nintendo Co Ltd and Sega Enterprises Ltd games machines – but when it comes to backing a single standard originating from one company that everyone can back, it always ends in squabbling and failure. That is not a mistake that the US or European industry looks likely to make, which is why Microsoft seems to be a giant leap closer to its goal of world domination today.