Business biographies score again!

I’m so happy Livermore Public Library doesn’t weed nonfiction too rapidly–because it’s such fun to read books of a certain age, particularly those that have the future all mapped out.

Back in June, I read and commented on a book telling us how Apple had gone sour, essentially why it was all over for the company. The book was published in 1999. As y’all know, Apple has become a mere shadow of its former self, dropping from $6 billion in FY1999 to a paltry $36 billion in 2009…

This time, it’s Breaking Windows: How Bill Gates Fumbled the Future of Microsoft. By David Bank, published in 2001, basically covering events through 2000. Bank’s thesis is that Microsoft should long ago have abandoned Windows as a key platform and turned all its attention to open-source web-based software: How else could it grow beyond a $10 billion company?

He seemed to think that Bill Gates (a) would resume full control of the company and (b) would “shoot the moon”–go for a complete transformation of Microsoft to be a great supplier of web-based software, maybe retaining some small revenue from those few who would stick with Windows and Office in the new millennium.

And, of course, as y’all know, everybody’s migrated to the web, Office essentially disappeared, and nobody remembers Windows except as a once-significant operating system… So much so that, for FY2010, the Windows division of Microsoft brought in a mere $17.8 billion in revenues (and $12.1 billion in operating income), while Office (and other business software, mostly Outlook) accounted for a paltry $18.9 billion ($11.7 billion in operating income). As a whole, Microsoft was down from its former might of $10 billion to a mere $62 billion (hmm: almost exactly the same growth rate as Apple, roughly six times the income ten years later)…ah, but $24.1 billion operating income. So, without Office and Windows holding back profitability, Microsoft would have an operating income of around $3 billion.

And Gates still seems primarily focused on the Gates Foundation, which doesn’t yield any kind of profit whatsoever. At least not in dollars and cents for the short term or for Microsoft shareholders.

The most curious item in the book, and it’s probably good (and mostly forgotten) history: At the turn of the century, Gates seemed heavily focused on Microsoft becoming a primary supplier of tablet computers, in a year or two. Not just the software: the computers. You know: the mPad…

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