Barney's Rubble

The Vision Thing

Microsoft should keep shooting for the stars, even if it only reaches a few.

Maybe I'm just old, but I've been subjected to dozens, hundreds or perhaps even thousands of computer industry "visions." It seems you can't do a keynote at the East Oshkosh FoxPro user group meeting without making some sort of grand proclamation about the future.

The biggest and boldest are reserved for the largest shows. You can't help but think those speakers intend to do nothing less than change the world. Ten times out of ten nothing happens.

Microsoft is the master at this game of manipulation. Speech after speech, people line up and actually listen. It's easy to make fun of this charade and certainly not every Redmond proclamation rings true, but Microsoft is doing something I haven't seen any other vendor pull off for a long, long time—if ever. That is to lay out a broad, grand, evolving vision that has more than a snowball's chance of being realized.

For comparison's sake, let's look at some of the competition's grand pronouncements and prophecies:

Oracle: Larry Ellison boldly promoted the Network Computer (NC), a zero-intelligence Internet screen scraper that would sell for as little as $200. Uneven Internet bandwidth was one problem. Citrix and Microsoft thin clients were another, but the real killer was full-powered PCs that gave NCs a beating worthy of Bruce Lee. This vision died a painful, public death and Ellison has been uncharacteristically quiet about his pronouncements ever since.

Doug Barney Sun: Scott McNealy is a true character and has made, oh, about 10 times as many forward-looking, visionary speeches as Larry. Scott always seems to have a fuller vision. He also backed the Network Computer. Actually, he still does. McNealy calls his the SunRay. The Sun chief took things further with Java—the write once, run anywhere Web services computing paradigm. This is cool too, but in both cases, the real questions are, "Does this fundamentally change or advance computing? What can we do now that we couldn't before?"

IBM: Being the largest computer company ever (so far), IBM has had a lot of visions, few of them truly grand. Its goal today is to sell you what you want or what IBM consultants can convince you that you need. This isn't bad, but it sure ain't vision.

HP/Compaq: The product of a monumental match-up, this conglomerate has produced some amazing equipment, but how does it plan to change the world? It may have ideas, but none have reached the masses.

Apple: Steve Jobs is no spring chicken. Like Ozzy Osbourne, though, he manages to still appear ultra cool. Jobs has provided great tunes and a slick stable of PCs and laptops, but will Apple's technology change the world? Not so far.

That leaves Microsoft, which believes in a PC on every desk, a computer for every person, information at our finger tips, the new world of work, natural language and so much more it is difficult to remember it all. It doesn't always execute, but Redmond always shoots high. It always has a plan to at least try to fulfill its vision. I say Microsoft should keep reaching for the stars, even if it only reaches a few.

What do you think? Write me at

About the Author

Doug Barney is editor in chief of Redmond magazine and the VP, editorial director of Redmond Media Group.

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Reader Comments:

Mon, Jun 15, 2009 J.R.

You seem to be trying to manipulate our mind, telling that Microsoft may be the best IT company in the world, but it's wrong.

And I don't either think that they respect standards, they have their own. Of course everything will work with IE, or whatever. But it's in a single sense. Anyone couldn't make things work with standards and Microsoft products, and there are always so much things to change, as Microsoft do in their code.

Tue, Jan 3, 2006 L.T. Some Flyover State

"... when did Microsoft respect standards? They don't even know what a standard is. "

Sure they do. Microsoft designs so that it al pretty much works adequately most everywhere.

As far as all the other PC "standards" out there, it is pretty simple to see what is going on:

Figure out what thing a given Microsoft product doesn't do. Declare this thing to be a standard. Make noise about how Microsoft does not live up to your new standard.

Wed, Oct 5, 2005 Cristian Bucharest

As the rest of the people said, Microsoft didn't have (almost) any vision at all. Maybe, their only vision was the Basic interpretor written by Gates, that become later the popular VB.
About that standardization thing: when did Microsoft respect standards? They don't even know what a standard is.

Tue, Oct 4, 2005 D.Berry Yur Aynuss

These guys can't
parse carriage return-line feeds

Tue, Oct 4, 2005 D.Berry Yur Aynuss

Huck Frog, nice plug. But WTF??

P.S. - Doug Barney's a moron. What a vision: a PC on every desktop. The last thing I want is to be tied to a desk. That's why there's the internet and wireless devices. I want to be plugged in EVERYWHERE, ALL THE TIME. That's productivity!

Fri, Sep 30, 2005 TM Eastern Europe

Speaking of vision (contributions aside), it's extremely difficult to say Microsoft ever had one. Indeed it's a embarrasing for such a big and financially successful company that almost none of the ideas that seemed to work for it were actually its own. But then again, as a saying goes in my country, "money has no smell". Microsoft, though, does.

Fri, Sep 30, 2005 TM Eastern Europe

Microsoft has made MANY contributions, but to what extent were they positive? Well, standardization was the only positive thing that comes to my mind. Apart from that, a lot of negative stuff. Putting all on balance, I'd vote for negative.
And I think it's obscene that company staff keep blogs in which, with more or less subtlety, try to praise their company, be it Microsoft or else. I think all hopes for any trace of credibility are lost.

Sun, Sep 25, 2005 Chad Gniffke Costa Mesa, CA

To say that Microsoft has made zero contributions is an extreme statement that I believe bears little credibility. Every new and great idea is spawned from another.

Wed, Sep 14, 2005 Hans Bezemer Delft

For comparison's sake, let's look at some of Microsoft's grand contributions to technology:

- MS-DOS started its life as QDOS (Quick and Dirty Operating System; should have kept its name)
- When Apple presented the Mac in 1984, Microsoft presented DOS V3.3
- When Microsoft "created" Windows, it tried to copy Apple. Later they had to settle in court.
- WinNT is nothing more than VMS. Try comparing the internals. There is no such thing as any "New Technology" in NT.
- Microsoft completely missed the Internet revolution. They caught up by buying a browser from SpyGlass.
- When Microsoft fail to pollute Java, they created their own C# version. Only almost ten years later..
- While Google revolutionizes the internet, Microsoft responds by a well-known "me-too" reaction.
- After Apple's Newton, Palms PDA, Microsoft decided to come with CE.

What great contributions has Microsoft made? I've never seen ANY. I won't even mention here the acquisitions they have made, the many times they were taken to court for stealing patents or other technology.

Microsoft leading the way? Don't make me laugh!

Although I've only spent may be a full days work with Apple machines and I'm not really an Apple lover, this is a REAL innovator (][, Lisa, Mac, Newton, iMac, iPod, iTunes, etc.)

Hans Bezemer

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