Forget Mad Men Or Breaking Bad. Give Me The Recurring Tales Of Microsoft.

by Brian S Hall   |   April 15th, 2013

People are often surprised to discover that I rarely watch television. Make no mistake, though. I’m no culture snob. It’s just that tracking tech companies is so much more fascinating. None more so than Microsoft.

No, not Apple, not Oracle, not Google or Facebook, not even a Marissa Mayer-led Yahoo. Microsoft stands alone, equal parts The Office, Lord of the Rings, and and a really bad, big budget Tom Cruise flick. The stories tumble out, one after the other, always somehow both a shock and painfully obvious.

Founder Bill Gates, we all know, has gone from despised to beloved. Once the face of the evil monopolistic digital land baron, now the big data soul of 21st century philanthropy.

Next, of course, there’s Steve Ballmer, Gate’s Salieri. Ballmer has spent most of his adult life fighting Gate’s wars, living in Gate’s shadow. Small wonder that, despite his many billions earned in sweat and blood and equity, he is now loathe to relinquish his role as lord of Microsoft.

Ballmer is worth as many stories as Gates, and most of them even better. For decades, Ballmer has faithfully spent his days and nights aggressively, angrily growing Windows – convinced it was the very same thing as growing Microsoft. Too late, he discovered the truth. No. Comically, he has yet to discover this truth even though everyone else has.

There’s so much more…

How many billions has Microsoft poured away in its futile efforts to catch up to Google?

How many billions more will it spend now that it has decided catching up to Apple is also necessary?

How many worthy competitors has Microsoft destroyed over the years – obliterated, in fact – only to suddenly later find itself rebuffed by a bumbling Yahoo, or scorned by a geeky Mark Zuckerberg, who decides to stake the future of his company on something as inconsequential as an Android launcher?

I cannot be the only one that finds watching Ballmer transform from an angry grizzly to a toothless Pooh Bear far more entertaining than anything put out by Hollywood.

I cannot be the only one who lived through the Microsoft Terror, watched as Microsoft took on GM, IBM, GE, even governments, now staring dumbfounded as Microsoft runs to France, crying about Google.

The stories write themselves…

The biggest, baddest personal computing company of our age spent years talking about, developing, showing off and building all manner of mobile computing devices. After years of toil they arrived at the gates of the promised land, inexplicably turned around, then mocked Apple and Google as they passed through that magical portal.

Then were turned away when they finally got mobile religion.

Microsoft destroyed Netscape, yet somehow missed out on the Internet’s greatest riches.

Microsoft rode in on a white horse and saved Apple, only to be mesmerized by the wizardry of Steve Jobs.

On its mighty shoulders, Microsoft alone raised up PC companies to the heavens – like Dell and HP – only to sit idly by as they quickly fed upon themselves in a foolish race to the bottom.

The company spent a king’s ransom to destroy Sony only to discover – too late – that Apple was the future of music, movies and gaming.

Microsoft developed the best ever PC operating system – after PCs became damn near irrelevant.

Worse. The company may no longer possess even the ability to right itself as Ballmer has spent the last decade swiftly excising all who possessed even the hint of challenging him.

But you want to see what’s on Netflix?

The company continues to earn ungodly profits – yet their stock refuses to budge.

Their software licensing model, once considered impervious to attack, is now beaten and bloodied. Only, not by free and open but by pricey consumer hardware.

They’ve spent so much over the years on media relations that now no one in the media can stand them.

Microsoft is everywhere yet ignored. Microsoft is giant yet mocked. Microsoft is rich yet may have no future. There is no better story in tech, in fiction nor on the silver screen.

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Brian S Hall

Brian S Hall writes about technology and change. His work has appeared in Techpinions, ReadWrite, the Wall Street Journal, LinkedIn, The Push and Business Insider. His latest novel, "Love in the Time of Caller ID" is available from Amazon and on iBooks.
  • http://twitter.com/sjsterling Scott Sterling

    I would guesstimate that no company in history has ever thrown away as much money as Microsoft. The story of Microsoft explains why monopoly status is bad not only for consumers but also for the company.

    • steve_wildstrom

      Microsoft still has a long ways to go to match the old AT&T’s losses on its acquisition and later divestiture of NCR and TCI–in the area of $80 to $100 billion.

      • http://twitter.com/sjsterling Scott Sterling

        You must be even older than I am! ;)

  • Defendor

    For me, the “Trial of the Century” was MS vs DOJ. If it was scripted people would have thought it an exaggeration of corporate misbehavior.

    It exposed a huge bundle of MS dirty laundry. MS wasn’t just out to destroy competitors, MS in those days stabbed partners in the back as well. They were 200lb gorilla and acted like one.

    MS worked out a royalty deal with Spyglass for the core software in IE. Spyglass was supposed to get a cut of Sales, but Microsoft turned around bundled it with Windows and claimed there where no sales, since it was a free inclusion. Screwing over Spyglass.

    They also were working on due diligence for a licensing deal with Stac data compression, and instead used the inside knowledge to build their own data compression software.

    It goes on and on.

    So I experience a huge amount of Schadenfreude, at Microsoft’s current floundering and increasing irrelevance.

    But I still run Windows as did for all the years when Microsoft’s loathsome behavior was revealed, because that is the power of a Monopoly.

    • http://www.facebook.com/randy.mann.391 Randy Mann

      @defendor: Couldn’t agree more! As most in the industry seem
      to be younger and have no idea about the MS of old, I really think somebody
      could write a book. The title ‘Evil Empire’ might be good. You mentioned
      Spyglass and Stac Electronics, and there are more casualties long forgotten. Embrace, Extend, and Extinguish was the biz plan and was executed to perfection over and over again. It seems they also worked the ‘Scorched Earth’ policy well where competitors were either forced to sell once the MS juggernaut made an
      announcement they were headed in that direction (even if they actually weren’t),
      or the major players of the competitor were hired by MS and then quietly put
      out to pasture. Presto, no competition. There have been so many ‘interesting’
      plays by MS. Do you remember they lifted complete sections of QuickTime into Video for Windows? Do you recall that the Win95 Registration Wizard automatically scanned user’s computers and sent a list of the installed apps and version numbers to Microsoft? What an incredible marketing advantage! Not to mention privacy
      violation. Or how about Microsoft claiming there was a ‘Chinese Wall’ between
      the OS developers and the app developers so that MS apps would not have an unfair advantage over third party developers? Do you believe for a second that MS
      developers didn’t get APIs long before everyone else? An examination of the OS
      code appears to show they made accommodations for their own apps. The phrase “DOS isn’t done until Lotus won’t run.” has been taken to task by both sides, but I’ll
      believe Lotus on this one. Or file this one under Hubris; When the anti-trust
      matter was beginning to look bad for Microsoft, they lobbied Justice directly
      to say they would have the DoJ budget cut. Incredible! That might be the only
      instance I can think of where Microsoft did not accomplish its goals in the
      pre-iPhone era. In those days, even when they lost, they won. That is to say,
      Microsoft was caught fabricating video evidence in the anti-trust trial, and for
      many reasons Microsoft lost the case. However Judge Jackson was overturned
      largely because he stated that he had never seen a bigger bunch of crooks and said
      Microsoft execs were along the lines of gangland killers and drug traffickers. A
      judge is not supposed to ever say such things but Microsoft was so blatant, he
      said it and so the case was overturned. Unbelievable! In those days, even when Microsoft lost, it won. A far cry from Microsoft today which can’t seem to do anything right. So for the younger crowd, that’s why many of us are gleeful of Microsoft’s current misfortunes. It seems they have it coming.

      • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

        I call those days the “Microsoft Terror”. We thought they could never be defeated.

      • Lerxst99

        Oh I completely agree with both Defendor and Randy Mann.

        Microsoft used to be *the* least scrupulous companies out there. You guys remember the grassroot campaign to the state attorneys general to go easy on Microsoft in the antitrust lawsuit, and then it turned out the letters contained names of dead people, and the entire campaign was funded by Microsoft itself?

        At the age of 41 I have been long enough in the industry and clearly remember all this, but there is without a shadow of a doubt a younger generation in tech now, that was too young to know of this and remember this, and you’ll see forums are full of posts *supporting* Microsoft instead, in their (sometimes) sleazy tactics.

        Me, I’m full of schadenfreude too, and in general nowadays just sit back with the popcorn and enjoys the show. :)

  • Rich

    That’s a pretty good summary of Microsoft. The bald one who got up on a stage and blustered “Not gonna happen on our watch” doesn’t seem to know the clock struck midnight quite awhile ago. Do the right thing for your company and retire, Mr. B.

  • krabbie

    To me tech is a soup opera with the archtypes:
    Good good: Bezos. Good Bad: Jobs. Bad good: Page. Bad bad: Balmer. script them in a soup opera and it would make breaking bad look like a disney cartoon. Oh, add some pshykophants to the pot. I know I am no speller, but maybe just maybe a screenwriter…. Naw

    • Rich

      A soup opera? Arright!

  • http://twitter.com/snookasnoo Idon’t Know

    I’m more offended by the mediocre quality of their products than anything else Microsoft has done.

  • David Olson

    What an image! The 1950′s cowboy TV shows become the 2020′s Age of Microcomputing shows. Action-adventure and comedy I can readily imagine from what you wrote. I tremble at the possibilities for horror or thriller or romance series. “Grandpa, did you really see Steve Ballmer dance and sing “Developers?” Did they have to give up their empire because of the oath of the vampires?”

  • Lowry Brooks

    Microsoft’s done. Every dog has their day.

  • http://twitter.com/chancymajormusk John Marcus Mckay

    Ha great article, I’m still watching Breaking Bad in June though!

    • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

      (Confession: I’ve never seen any of the shows I’ve referenced.)

      • steve_wildstrom

        You can see both on Netflix. Worth your time.

  • Peter

    The best image I have of Microsoft is their “iPhone funeral”.

    Totally tasteless. Totally clueless.

    • http://www.brianshall.com/ Brian S Hall

      I had totally forgotten about that. Yeah, not their best moment.

  • http://twitter.com/qka qka

    Microsoft runs to France, crying about Google

    Microsoft, turning to France for protection! France, the defender of those unable to compete on a level playing field!

    Priceless!

  • Kosh94

    can you still watch “Dance Monkeyboy” ??