07/15/2004: Is John Dvorak full of it?
Interesting speculations by John in a recent PC Mag article: Closing Microsoft. Starting with an offhand remark by Bill Gates, he wonders about what that might portend:
Bill Gates is reported to have told more than a few people, when asked how long he intends to run Microsoft, "Until it stops being fun." This remark has always baffled me, since it's never been clear what fun is for Bill Gates—or for Steve Ballmer, for that matter. Is it fun to be publicly scrutinized, ridiculed, have pies thrown in your face, and be sued left and right? Maybe not, but it's probably fun to have private jets, red-carpet treatment, and billions of dollars in your personal bank account. But once you have the latter, why bother with the former? How about simply shuttering the company?Hey, at least I'd be pleased.
The concept of Microsoft possibly shutting down can be associated with the recent announcement that the company is cutting costs to save a billion dollars. With upwards of $70 billion in the corporate coffers and many billions in the personal bank accounts of the CEO and founders, you have to wonder what people at Microsoft are thinking. Do they know something we do not know? The reason behind the announcement has to be one of three things: Someone sees a rocky road ahead, they are even greedier than ever, or they are planning a shutdown.
The company is already saving a tremendous amount of money by offshoring jobs and using cheap H1-B visa holders for U.S. jobs. This is well documented. So what does Microsoft do with the profits besides bank them? It talks a big game about R&D but its most mundane product, the Internet Explorer browser, is full of holes and is essentially a bunch of cobbled-together old code. Here's an interesting exercise for you: Open Internet Explorer. Go to Help, then About, and you'll see that Microsoft still acknowledges that Internet Explorer is the old Spyglass browser based on Mosaic. This was thrown together years ago. Then look at the copyright notice. It ends in 2001. Unless I'm mistaken, that means that there has been no real update since then, just patches. To get a bigger laugh, click on Acknowledgements and see how long you can endure the laundry list of people who worked on the code. It's as if the entire state of Washington did some coding. Why?
The fact is this software, which has been mostly stagnant since the marginalization of Netscape, is just coasting. So where is all the R&D? I don't see it. In fact, I see the entire company coasting along making more and more money with possibly one concept ahead: to close down.
Yeah, I know that sounds ridiculous, but it wouldn't be unprecedented for a high-tech software company to just end its life cycle by closing. I recall the early days of microcomputing when Processor Technology closed. Everyone thought they went broke, but it turned out that the founders were just bored with the business and closed. It has been done.
Of course, I realize that this whole notion is crazy on the surface, but, in this scenario, all the principals would have their money, houses, and cars, and would never have to worry about Microsoft going into a pathetic decline, as most companies eventually do. The closure would be one of the most interesting episodes in the history of business. And who would complain? Gates could get a few cheap shots in at the Justice Department while he was at it. I think this is exactly what Microsoft should do. And this scenario falls in line with the company's announcements on cost-cutting.
Len on 07.15.04 @ 06:46 PM CST