So, in the space of one week, two leading lights leave Microsoft – Bill Gates and Robert Scoble. And the mainstream press had a hard time deciding which should get more coverage.
This typifies the inflated self-generated hype that is Web 2.0. Today, you’re a nobody unless you have a blog, a Flickr account and you’re working on video streaming. He who has the most links and trackbacks wins. It doesn’t matter that your blog is full of entries referring to comments made by your mates, linking to yet more friends of friends and often, ultimately, back to yourself. If it’s blogged, it’s cool.
There’s simply no basis for comparison between the achievements of the two men. Apparently, one has been an outstanding leader of the industry, a clear voice in the fog and confusion of the murky worlds of deep development and rapid technology change. The other merely built a software company employing 80,000 people, from scratch.
The self-aggrandisement reached new heights of hype when Scoble decided to tell the world what was wrong with the Microsoft business model, dishing out advice to his erstwhile (then still current) CEO Steve Ballmer. He should spend more time talking to the Web 2.0 grassroots. These are the new influencers, the new democratisation of the internet; it’s where the power is. Apparently.
Why am I picking on Scoble, who’s a perfectly nice chap, if you don’t mind strident and confident American voices? Because he’s trundling off to a new startup funded by venture capitalist money. No doubt he’ll get a goodly slice of the equity, and I wish him well. But I predict that like much of the Web 2.0 nonsense, his voice will disappear in the morning mist, and in a year it will be “Scoble? Who he?” Why? Because the business world doesn’t care about this Web 2.0 stuff. It wants tools to do business. If it has a Web 2.0 moniker on it, they couldn’t care less. We cared what Scoble had to say up until now because he was, in effect, a voice of Microsoft, someone who was on the inside speaking outwards. How trad, how Web 1.0. Cut the strings, and the puppet falls to the floor.
Building a new social order is for the dreamers, with which the Web 2.0 world is overpopulated. And now it’s dragging in careless VC funding.
Meanwhile, Bill has built a privately funded foundation worth a staggering $30 billion, give or take a bit. Now we could argue, in a bout of table thumping in the pub, that some of it is ill-gotten gains. Indeed so, the Microsoft Tax has done him proud. But unlike taxes from our own government, we didn’t have to buy into this tax. And no-one took us to court just because we preferred Mac or Linux, or an IBM AS/400 instead.
One thing is certain – the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is spending the money far more wisely, more efficiently and with less political underhand behaviour than any government. The foundation has many well-publicised programmes, doing good work in the reduction or elimination of disease around the world. Indeed, doing anti-viral work seems to be a cornerstone of his vision.
So here is my final request of Bill. You still have two years at the helm of Microsoft. Your successors have been named, and I correctly predicted months ago that Ray Ozzie would be the linchpin of the New Microsoft. There’s nothing left for you to do, so here’s a task. Something close to your heart.
Start a programme today, a skunkworks one with a small team. The sort of high-speed, rapid-fire development you love, which takes you back to your earliest days of coding in Albuquerque. Give us a truly secure version of Windows XP Home. Call it the XP Homeland Security version. Sort out the appalling user accounts nonsense, and go back to the core NT security model and vision. Lock everything down tighter than a drum, and make it a niche product, one that appeals to those who don’t, or can’t, yet move to Vista, yet who yearn for secure, managed and responsible home computing. Yes, it will break most applications, but that doesn’t matter – you kowtowed to the third-party software vendors and look where it got you. Make the XP Homeland Security badge a sign of the world’s most solid, most impregnable operating system. Make it so it doesn’t need an anti-virus engine or an anti-spam scanner, or all the other nonsense and apologies for bad design, OS and app compromise.