Opinion

Demise of Gates' empire means the dark ages for users



Simon Moores

Tech Talk

The other day, a journalist called to ask my reaction to the news that Novell was about to "re-invent itself".

"As what?" I asked sarcastically. "A dotcom perhaps?"

"Close," replied the German wordmeister,

"Apparently it's as an e-business company!"

The call caught me by surprise. I had escaped to the south of France, away from the world and people who thought that Boo.com was a really good example of an Internet retail business.

Taking in the local wine and a large Partugas cigar, I reflected on the recent fortunes of Microsoft and Novell. Both companies had arguably defined our relationship with the personal computer. Both now looked very threatened in the opening months of the 21st century.

Last year, some really clever people from Novell locked me in a room with them and asked me what I thought the future held for the company. I replied with complete honesty, "that Novell had some really forward-thinking technology, but a brand that was not competitive.

"You need to reinvent the company," I said.

A clever way to achieve this might be to use the brand to maintain the sizeable legacy business and evolve a second, fresh brand to hold the clever stuff - with a subtle banner in small print saying it is a Novell company.

Six months later, Microsoft, too, was seeking an opinion. Unlike Novell, which may wish to become a new company, Microsoft might yet find itself forced along this path.

If Novell looks tired, then Microsoft wishes to be loved. It holds all the trashy style of a Roman Emperor playing to the coliseum crowds to defend us from the barbarian threat of the open-source movement, and builds great aqueducts. But empires come and go and so to, do the fortunes of technology companies.

My concern is that established third-wave technology empires will be replaced, leaving behind a vacuum that many new companies are not mature enough to fill for at least three to five years.

All around me, I see some technology companies searching for staff and juggling plates and to quote my good friend, Harvard professor Lawrence Lessig, "The future - of this industry - leaves me deeply pessimistic".

Simon Moores is chairman of the Windows NT Forum and Java Forum

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This was first published in May 2000

 

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