This question came up during the geek lunch here in Orlando, far far away from the neverland of the Silicon Valley. Who cares about Yahoo and Google and Microsoft, I am tired of that drama said one of our local leaders.
So really, what is at stake on this Yahoo-Google-Microsoft love triangle? On one hand, it is the future of the Internet as we know it. On the other, it is the future of how we will be developing systems and distributing information. Let me offer you some background here.
The Ugly Truth
First, I need you to accept one fundamental truth that may not be very easy to swallow. Microsoft is an evil corporation. Not because they are closed, but because Microsoft still has not changed a lot since the times that they were spanked by DOJ and continue to be spanked by EU. Microsoft continues to try to dominate the open environment and continues to fail. For example, you can’t land at a single Microsoft.com page without them trying to force Silverlight down your throat. Around the Vista launch, everything they distributed was XPS so you wouldn’t dream use a competitive product. Microsoft has over years shown its desire to be the owner of all protocols, jack of all trades, so it can collect licensing revenue from anyone that dream play on their turf. That is why the DOJ and EU scrutiny has been great for the Internet and allowed so many of the things you rely on to be available for free. Just imagine the Microsoft world, in which you would have to pay a royalty to send a message to MSN IM or only use Microsoft IE to browse any page developed by Visual Studio?
Now while the Microsoft corporation is evil, Microsoft employees are not. Absolutely everyone I’ve met there has been just phenomenal, down to earth, looking to help and looking to solve big problems with software. Everyone except Dave Overton, who kills kittens in his spare time and is trying to destroy SBSC (footnote needed).
So how does such a great group of people, with such noble cause, such an incredible amount of resources, so many young people looking to solve problems turn into such a monopolistic asshole of a corporation?
The answer lies in the psychology of the Microsoft machine, somewhat similar to The Milgram Experiment, in which the subject will completely defer judgement to the leader regardless of the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
I love you Steve, but this is squarely your fault.
You see, a Microsoft job is full of promises. First promise is that you will be working for the biggest software publisher on the planet which will give you prestige over everyone else in the industry. The second promise is the Microsoft share options that you’re given (or it used to be back in the 90’s before the .com bust) so you win the more Microsoft wins. Finally, it is the promise that it is a large company where sky is the limit and there is no ceiling so long as you don’t ask questions and play by the company rules.
And then Steve Ballmer, like he just finished a porn scene, jumps out in front of the lemmings at MGX (or MDX?) or any other internal event and proclaims – we will compete, we will compete with everyone, anywhere, and we will win!
So they do! And the few guys up top that decide how Microsoft competes have far different goals than the 99.9% of the base below them, but the 99.9% of the base below them has a goal of being in the top level management. The management goals are driven by the major shareholder goals, so the inner goal of being the biggest and best gets skewed by the shareholder goal of being the most profitable. So, how do you get to be the biggest and best and also the most profitable?
You screw the customer.
So much like the rest of the world looks at Americans as angry, ignorant people bent on world domination, people look at Microsoft as the big dominant bunch of proprietary mud slingers. While the majority does not approve of what is going on, they have to feed their families.
Why is it so hard to sell this in California?
There is much discussion about being open in Silicon Valley. But for all the talk, they are not all that much more open, they just play a lot more open, talk, share and you see relationships form and people go from one company to another all the time.
Silicon Valley is open to investment, open to change, open to new solutions and they all want to integrate with one another if it means more money. Meanwhile, they all follow their own dogma. Be it that they are “not to be evil” or “worlds start page” or “what is how” or “dog food cheap”
Microsoft’s influence over Silicon Valley would be detrimental to that spirit of innovation and integration and would lead to the same old constricted environment of ignoring the world for the promotion.
So while the best possible thing for Yahoo would be to take the Microsoft check and some corporate sales knowhow in the world of designing business applications, it could be the worst possible thing for the rest of us if Microsoft were allowed to become dominant again with the heavy hand on the open Internet.