Why Microsoft fell apart

I pick up possibly-interesting nonfiction books, not quite at random, when I’m visiting the local PL, and I admit a fondness for “hot topic” and “here’s the way it’s going to be” books that are a few years old.

This one seemed more straightforward: Breaking Windows: How Bill Gates fumbled the future of Microsoft by David Bank, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal. (Free Press, 2001, ISBN 0-7432-0315-1)

Based on interviews with loads of current and former Microsoft people, including Gates, Ballmer, and the rest of the top folks.

Bank seems to be telling a story of how Microsoft lacked the courage to basically stop developing Windows and Office in the late 1990s and move all its attention to web software. As a result, as we all know, Microsoft is a pathetic shell of a company barely hanging on to its few dozen remaining employees, while the smart people who built web-based applications in the late 1990s are all multibillionaires.

Or not.

Oddly enough, Bank finishes by saying that Gates is smart enough to wind up a winner–but only, I infer, by finally giving up on all that desktop-oriented nonsense.

I suppose the lesson is that it’s tough to write hard-headed confident technology reportage when the inevitable shifts aren’t quite as inevitable as they appear.

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