Here are a few of the trends that were going to change everything.
- Grocery stores were going to die in favor of direct home delivery.
- Physical retail stores were going to die in favor of online stores and direct home delivery.
- There is something called a new economy, so when you judged things using concepts such as profit or margins or practicality, you were wrong.
- The browser would become the operating system.
- Disintermediation (cutting out the middle man using the Internet) would dominate the decades ahead.
A couple of ideas that pre-dated the dot com era became part of the dot com canon. They continue to this day and are still my favorites:
- The future of computing is client-server (today, we call that “the cloud”).
- Windows is dead.
- Microsoft Office is dead.
The client-server meme has been around since the 1980s as a counter-revolution to the personal computer’s appearance in the late 1970s. Once people realized that these machines were not toys, as naysayers earlier claimed, but were instead devices to empower the individual, they had to be stopped.
Back in the day, we called this client-server stuff by names like “thin-client computing” or “network computing.” But only “cloud computing” could put the PC juggernaut in its place! Yeah, right.
The “Windows is dead” line (along with the Office is dead meme) hit its stride in the late 1990s and dominated the conversation throughout the decade after that. I first heard it explained to me in Boston around 1998 and began to see it used as a “fact” in Silicon Valley thereafter. It’s still a “fact” somehow and the proof is entirely in the love affair the world is having with the Google Chromebook—a completely useless machine as far as I’m concerned
Curiously, nothing except the Mac OS from Apple has done anything to come close to challenging Windows in the marketplace.
When someone suggests that maybe a vendor should develop a real strong OS—other than Linux, of course—to challenge Windows the response is always: “Why? The desktop computer is also dead.”
In some funny and odd way, Microsoft itself has bought into this nonsense. It keeps wasting money looking for exit strategies but it remains in business. Instead of marketing Windows and Office with a sincere belief that they will be around forever (that’s the proper approach) Microsoft believes the meme, which has yet to be proven, and fails to market against them. This is astonishing to anyone paying attention. What is wrong with these people? Buying Minecraft is not the answer.
Microsoft should simply look at Adobe. It’s a company with self-confidence about its own products. A meme cropping up that “Photoshop is dead” or “Illustrator is dead” never happens. That’s because the company actually likes what it is doing. It keeps its foot on the gas pedal and improves its products at a breakneck speed. This is the antithesis of Microsoft, which prefers to fret about the future and give up on products. As an example: the tale of Microsoft FrontPage, the long-dead Web development tool, is worth a Harvard case study.
This lack of self-confidence dominates Microsoft. It results in a lackluster response by the public to things such as the Windows Phone. That handset OS should be marketed as the only alternative to Apple’s iOS. Android should be seen as just an iOS clone, which it is. Yet how is Windows Phone marketed? What is its image? I have no idea; neither does Microsoft. When does Windows Phone come up in the conversation about smartphones? Never. How often was it mentioned during the iPhone 6 rollout? Not at all. Does Microsoft ever leverage the fact that it invented the idea of a smartphone? Nope.
Microsoft is a company that lost its mojo and self-confidence in the late 1990s and has no clue what to do about it.
Maybe defending its turf, rather than surrendering, would be a start. It could fight back with a serious rebuke of the cloud and market against it—the stupid cloud is a counter-revolutionary concept taking us all back to centralized computing, where users have no control at all. But instead it buys into the whole idea! It’s mind-boggling.
Well, at least now the Microsofties can spend time playing Minecraft in their copious spare time, in between bouts of worry and self-doubt.