Viewpoint -- Just Imagine A World Without Microsoft

Dec. 21, 2004
Despite integration problems, it would mean greater choice for businesses and consumers.

Just imagine a world without Microsoft. If the words, "Illegal Operation," or "Error 192" flash before your eyes, you know what I'm getting at. It's like trying to imagine a world without Wheaties, or a world without the World Wide Web. Does not compute. Just for an imagination-spraining minute, though, try to envision what it would be like if there were . . . no Microsoft.

  • Probably the biggest difference is that we'd be rid of that annoying little "pop-up guy" who, totally uninvited, appears on the right side of your computer screen, insisting that "you are trying to write a letter . . . "
  • In desktop applications, there'd be several competing programs for word processing, spreadsheets and graphics (read slide presentation). Suites containing multiple different applications also would be available. In the early days of word processing, many of the programs communicated with each other about as well as a Masai warrior trying to talk to a Scot. Today, with standards such as XML and the ease with which the Internet makes communications flow, translation problems would be fewer.
  • In desktop operating systems, IBM would be the leader, with about 60% of the market. Apple Computer would have about one-third.
  • Big Blue also would be the dominant force in the personal computer business. Taking second would be Apple. In the absence of a Bill Gates, Apple's Steve Jobs would be one of the world's wealthiest wonks, in the same league with Larry Ellison of Oracle.
  • Among internet browsers, Netscape wouldn't have the nearly four out of five desktops it held pre-Microsoft, because other innovators would have entered the market. Instead of Microsoft vanilla and Netscape chocolate, the browser world would offer spumoni, gelatos and sorbets in rainbow colors. Each would have its own special flavor and unique features.
  • In electronic game players, Sony and Nintendo would continue to mop up with or without competition from Xbox, which, so far, has been like a fruit fly around their tails.
  • In databases, Oracle Corp., Informix and Sybase each would have greater market share than today, with Oracle the biggest benefactor.
  • In network operating systems, the hands-down winner would be Novell. Sales of Netware, which virtually had no peer until WindowsNT came along, would propel Novell to a size that rivals Oracle in industry hegemony.
  • In software utilities, which handle a variety of tasks for computers, networks and applications, a host of small software companies would have thrived. Under the Microsoft regime, many of these companies were either bought or squeezed out of existence by Big Redmond.
  • In the world of antitrust, lacking the depositional insolence of the World's Wealthiest Man and the deceptive testimony of his less-than-candid minions, the feds would have to come up with someone else to embarrass the heck out of in court. Of course, they'd still have Enron and all the lesser Enronettes to drag to justice, with or without handcuffs.
  • The outlook for enterprise applications, rather than downright gloomy with Microsoft entering the fray with a pair of major acquisitions, would be bright and sunny. Instead of being threatened by the brooding gray cloud of a low-end solution for every application known to business, the ERP market would maintain a healthy competition, with SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft and J.D. Edwards, to name a few, jockeying for the Big Dog spot.
On the other hand, in this world we are stuck with, Microsoft is likely to run a lot faster with a trimmer, smaller ship, no doubt making ERP, supply-chain management, CRM and other important software applications available to many small companies that might otherwise not be able to afford them. In sum, a world without Microsoft would mean greater choice for businesses and consumers. Sure, there'd be a downside -- more integration headaches. Trying to get different brands of software to work together has always been a bit like trying to get cats to play fetch with dogs. You'd have more competition. Instead of just Word, you'd have half a dozen word-processors. Instead of just PowerPoint, you'd have several graphics software packages for building presentations. The same's true for databases and browsers. Instead of everything looking like Toyota, there'd be Nissans, Jaguars, Chryslers, Mercedes, Fords, Saturns, and yes, even BMW Mini Coopers to pick from. Innovation thrives in a market where all comers have a real chance to prove the value of their products. Just imagine. Doug Bartholomew is a former IW senior editor. He is based in San Francisco.

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