"You could spend your whole life trying to change the world"
That was the slogan on Microsoft's recruitment adverts, back in the late 1990s...
Trouble is, what if you've already succeeded? What if you originally set out with a bold vision to put a computer into every home, and get software to be something people bought, the way they bought home appliances... and then, 15 years later, you've done it: there actually IS a computer in every home, and every high street has a dozen stores, selling computers with your software on them?
At the end of the 90s, that's very much where Microsoft was sitting. They'd changed the world, and they'd done it in exactly they way they'd planned.
So what do you do? Well, sadly, if the new world you have made for your self, is actually extraordinarily kind to you, then there's a strong incentive (however much your rational mind might fight against it) to spend your remaining energies trying to stop the world from changing any further. If the only thing you have to bank on, is that computers will continue getting faster and faster, so that people will want to do more and more with them, then your assumption is going to be that only way they can achieve that, is to keep buying more and more software for them. Great. You're a software company.
In fact, the business model was sound, if you followed its assumptions. The computer would occupy the centre of the home, like a pet mainframe. People would buy lots and lots of software for it, that they consumed on lightweight client devices around the house (it's classic client-server stuff that anyone at Honeywell or DEC would have recognised). This was the original role of the Microsoft slate form factor.
In this view of things, then the next big war would be fought between the sellers of encyclopedias, electronic reference works, and home media - and Microsoft was all geared up for that fight. They had sunk tens of billions into Encarta - and it's successor, Sendak - in readiness. They were going to do to Encyclopedia Britannica - and all the rest - what they had done to all their other competitors before them.
And that was the problem: the assumption. The network was supposed to go in that direction - outwards from the Home Computer - which acted as a library of all the information you could want - into the Home Appliances, which acted as its clients, and where the tight integration of Microsoft's office suite, with Microsoft's reference libraries and media, would make the combination of the one, with the other, a no-brainer.
But the traffic suddenly started coming in the other way: inwards, from this weird Wild West of a place, outside, full of RPC worms, ripped-off stuff, and free things. So unprepared for this world, were they, that they shipped a prettified version of their server operating system, with all services enabled, and no firewall, straight into a marketplace where all their customers were getting their first home broadband connection: welcome to the internet, allow me to introduce myself, my name is Blaster.
This is what Microsoft's management don't seem to grasp: they could have enabled the firewall and shipped the software with all non-essential services enabled, but they couldn't have stopped the influx:. They are never going to reverse the flow of traffic. So much innovation at Microsoft is wasted in trying to get the flow of traffic going back outwards from the PC. It is never going to happen.
The picture Fred Moody paints of what was starting to go wrong at Microsoft - even back in the early 90s, in his book about the Sendak project "I sing the Body Electronic" - still resonates with what remains wrong within the Campus, today. There are still young people who want to spend their entire lives trying to change the world - but its been more than two decades since any of them saw Microsoft as the place to do it.