Microsoft today is barely acquainted with how its software is produced. Now Google’s search results look similarly out of whack.
It’s hard to imagine now, but there was a time when the mainstream press was barely acquainted with the genius and foresight of today’s technology leaders.
Fifteen years ago Bill Gates appeared on the BBC’s Wogan show – which the Beeb thought of as a nightly Johnny Carson, but which was really like watching Regis Philbin on cough syrup – to show off his WinPad PC. The wooden Gates made a joke about making his money disappear, with only a couple of clicks, using only a stylus. As Gates blinked, a nation which had never heard of Microsoft, and couldn’t quite figure out why the guy in glasses wasn’t singing or dancing, looked on in sympathetic embarrassment.
But Gates’s prime time TV appearance underscored one point, popular in the public prints at the time, which was that a nerdish, upstart technology was changing the very foundations of the world as we know it. Microsoft was simply smarter, more agile, more cunning, and far more darkly mysterious than the fusty incumbents, like IBM, could ever realize. To stand in the way of Microsoft was to stand in the way of youth, innovation and progress itself.
Now, it may puzzle you as much as it puzzles us that this idea ever gained popular currency – let’s save that discussion for another day. But it can’t have escaped your notice that this mythical struggle has been reprised by the inkies several times – in the mid-1990s with Netscape – and today with the phoney war between Microsoft and Google.
If you’re of the view that history repeats itself the second time round as farce, then the parallels are even more uncomfortable.