Bill Gates is no longer public enemy numberone

The power of Microsoft is more of a myth from thetime when PC was king
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The Independent Online

The recent court judgment against Microsoftin the anti-trust case has been warmly welcomed by many in the Internetindustry. The Redmond guys were a constant threat to the freedom of theInternet. For five years, their marketing gurus were forcing Microsoftsolutions on surfers by leveraging the Windows distribution muscle. That wasnot always for the good of the Net, slowing down progress, with BillGates and his gang trying to impose their own, often inferior products as theNet standard on the back of their monopoly in operating systems.

The recent court judgment against Microsoftin the anti-trust case has been warmly welcomed by many in the Internetindustry. The Redmond guys were a constant threat to the freedom of theInternet. For five years, their marketing gurus were forcing Microsoftsolutions on surfers by leveraging the Windows distribution muscle. That wasnot always for the good of the Net, slowing down progress, with BillGates and his gang trying to impose their own, often inferior products as theNet standard on the back of their monopoly in operating systems.

However, the irony of the ruling is that the spirit of the omnipresent andultra-powerful Microsoft had already begun to fade away some time ago.Over the last six months, since other platforms for communications and Netaccess have come to the fore, Microsoft has been laggingbehind.

Microsoft has got pretty much nowhere with its attempt to controlmobiles phones. That game is big, getting bigger as we speak andMicrosoft will not even be a contender. A similar situation exists in thearea of personal organisers, with Palm Pilot overwhelmingly winning thehearts and souls of the users on both sides of the Atlantic. Of course,Pilot has been attacked by Windows CE-based products, but they are justnot sexy enough to compete, losing in the "cool" factor as well asefficiency to the pioneer Palm. CE is too cumbersome and inefficient to makesense in smaller devices, which is the reason why most sensible manufacturerswouldn't touch it with a bargepole, with or without the anti-trustjudgment. Would you like to beam your business cards across the breakfasttable in Claridge's flashing a CE device? Most of us wouldn't becaught dead with the thing. So game, set and match to Palm, which hasclearly emerged as the organiser of choice for the 21st century.

Anotherarea of major growth is the interactive TV - anybody still waiting forWebTV? Me neither, and even Bill's investment in NTL in the lastattempt at taking over the Internet on TV was a move that hasn't quitedelivered, either. NTL has spent a lot of money on a mysterious adcampaign on the back of every bus in the country, but I still can't getits set-top box for love or money. Perhaps this will be a case of"Internet in the bus", and the point of the ads is that NTL isputting a mobile Net cafe on the 74 to Putney Bridge. Seems a faster way toget people online than waiting for the Godot of their digital boxdelivery.

Add to that long list of cock-ups the triumphant rollout ofSega Dreamcast, providing what all of us wanted in the first place, greatgames with the Internet access for under pounds 200. Interestingly,Dreamcast sort of has some CE support, but no software on the market actuallyuses it, which perhaps says something about the attractiveness of developmenton CE. Obviously, Sega was paying lip service to Bill, but doing itsown thing all along anyway.

This all adds up to a pretty poor show byMicrosoft. In today's polymorphic world, where we access technologyvia a multiplicity of devices, each running off a different set-up,it seems that the power of Microsoft is more of a myth from the time when the PCwas the king.

It is true that the judgment has been a long time coming,and that all is not won yet, as many industry pundits predict that Bill willdo a deal rather than let the US Government break up his beloved Microsoft.However, little does it matter anymore, as the technology, empoweredby the heterogenous nature of the access devices is taking justice in its ownhands, powering away with alternatives that were not strong enough separatelybut can beat the bully easily when they all combine forces. It is like ahydra with many heads - every time Microsoft invests in a new device,trying to kill the competition, the technology re-emerges somewhere elsewith two new, non-Windows-based heads.

The real problems andobstacles to freedom of technological development is not Microsoft anymore.It's our own British Telecom. BT has become so complacent that it is noteven pretending anymore. The speed of investment in the infrastructure isslowing down, and if you look carefully at the quality of the UK network,the congestions and busy signal on your ISP is quite often related to problems atBT's end. ISPs are investing heavily in their back ends and capacity.BT needs to deliver its end, and focus on solid investment here in the UKinstead of grandiose ideas like building portals in China. What will stop theUK from maintaining a competitive edge is the massive delay in DSL rollout.Thanks to BT, we will be stuck with the medieval modem speeds well into theyear 2001.

Every time I hear the Government bubbling about the UK beingfirst in e-commerce, my stomach turns upside down. I have just comeback from the US, where DSL is forging ahead, creating a whole newinfrastructure for e-commerce. Here, in the backwater of Internetband-width, we will have to stifle our development needs, lose thecompetitive edge to Americans (again) and wait for Oftel to force BT togive up its DSL monopoly. Why can't we have a break-up into BabyBTs, like AT&T in the States? That would create a more competitiveenvironment for e-commerce.

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