Bill Gates, who for years was the richest man in the world, is also one of the smartest. But even he couldn’t figure out how to beat the Internet-how to transition his grand old monopoly software company, Microsoft, into a business that thrives on the Net. And so he begins his retirement today from Microsoft as the PC era’s biggest winner, and the Web era’s most spectacular casualty.
It’s pretty well known by now that the Internet, for all its world-flattening glory, is a destroyer of businesses without parallel. How many companies roared along for decades, minting money, only to see the Internet eat their business plans? We live in a media age and the media industry is Exhibit 1 in the murder trial. Newspapers, magazines, music, television, movies — all of the traditional models are dead or dying as bloodied moguls everywhere scramble to survive. But the Net has brutalized old-line business across most industries-retail, tele-com, financial services and the technology industry itself, is, ironically, no exception.
Few companies not born on the Web have figured out how to thrive there. (Apple, with its post-PC iPhone could be the shining exception.) As Gates turns his attention full time to philanthropy, I wonder what will be left of the great company he founded, Microsoft, by the time Gates picks up a Nobel Prize for Peace. Clearly, a business with $26 billion in cash reserves isn’t exactly at death’s door. And Microsoft continues to be enormously profitable, thanks to its operating system monopoly. Thanks, that is, to Gates’s genius.
But big, complicated operating systems such as Microsoft’s latest, Vista, aren’t necessary in the Web Age, where applications are delivered for free and on demand — often without users even being aware of it. The Net is where the money is, and it’s the one place that Gates-like so many others-hasn’t left his mark.
He saw the Internet missile coming of course. But by the time he sounded the alarm, it may have been too late. (Read his famous “Internet Tidal Wave” memo, sent to the troops May 26, 1995, over a year after the browser company known as Netscape launched.
Read more …
Bill Gates: PC Genius, Internet Fool, Time, Jun 29, 2008.
Bill Gates, “The Internet Tidal Wave,” May 26, 1995
wikipedia, “The Internet Tidal Wave,” May 26, 1995 (a more legible version).
In search of the real Bill Gates, Time, Oct 20, 2005.
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