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Microsoft looks beyond the PC and sees Deja Vu

Posted by asj2006 on May 16, 2007 at 1:45 AM PDT

I was watching Triumph of the Nerds earlier today because of my renewed interest in computer history after me and my wife visited the Museum of Computing History in California after JavaOne 2007.

One of the more interesting segments dwelt on the paranoia of Bill Gates, and about how he could never get it out of his head that the next "Microsoft" might arise at any time and eclipse the real Microsoft, just like his company had broken the dominant sway of IBM over the computing landscape at that time. IBM could have broken and consumed Microsoft easily at the beginning, but had focused on the wrong thing at the time, the hardware, while letting the operating system and software systems out of the bottle, so to speak.

Recently, it has become more and more evident that Microsoft is slowly but inevitably losing its dominant grip on the IT world, with Paul Graham even proclaiming that Microsoft is dead. If this is so, then perhaps Microsoft is not losing power because of Open Source, nor because of hyped products like the stripped down PC called the "Network Computer" in the TV documentary, but by history exacting its own revenge. After all, didn't Stephen King say that Ka is a wheel?

Just as IBM's undoing was the fact that its roots were in the hardware-oriented mainframes that it dominated, Microsoft's roots are tied inextricably to the PC, and this forces the company to see everything around it as extensions of the PC. Microsoft may see and try to anticipate the rise of small devices, but it always sees them in the end as simple peripherals of its own cash cows.

But perhaps ka is telling us that the new paradigm is that the network is in your hands? Perhaps the future is not office workers tied to their desks like industrial revolution automatons, but mobile individuals linking to and interacting with ad hoc networks of autonomous smaller devices?

As more and more "dumb" devices increase in computing capabilities, the dominant companies in those industries are leading the charge to change the way people interact with the "world's blood", the internet, and Java ME is by far the most widely-used application development platform in this arena. For example, cable companies are using Java ME to provide a development framework for millions of their set-top boxes, and are providing features to these small devices that heretofore were the exclusive province of PCs, such as picture viewing and games.

Ka, as the saying goes, is also changeable like the wind. There are some exciting times ahead indeed.