Lessons Learned: Bill Gates’ 20-year old memo on the future opportunities of the internet

Back in 1995, Microsoft dominated the computer world. While hard to imagine for most younger folks, back then the Internet was a new and strange thing—even more mysterious than “the cloud” that we’ve been hearing about for years.

The new opportunities and threats posed by the technology behind the “World Wide Web” led to an amazing roller coaster ride catapulting the tech industry from obscurity into ubiquity.

Microsoft’s Internet strategy would ultimately lead to a decade-long anti-trust fight with the US government, and a major shift in marketshare within the overall tech industry. That saga can be traced back to a memo that Gates sent to all employees at Microsoft that served as a call to arms. Below, Paul Thurott takes a look at the aftermath 20 years later:

Today, it doesn’t matter what Microsoft does.

Microsoft is no longer the gatekeeper for the Internet, and there are far more people accessing the web—and connected services—with mobile devices than with PCs. Today, Microsoft is racing to put its mobile apps on competing platforms like Android and iOS, opening up those users to its own services. And it is opening up Windows 10 to work more closely with those devices. The days of “Windows only” are long gone. Today, the Microsoft brand has overtaken the Windows brand, and the firm’s integration point is in the cloud, not on the PC desktop. Microsoft has become IBM.

Microsoft’s rivals make the most popular browsers, Safari and Chrome. Microsoft’s rivals make the software that runs on the most popular mobile platforms (and, in the case of Apple, make the hardware as well). Microsoft’s rivals make the most popular connected services, host the most popular app stores, and control the most popular content ecosystems. Microsoft’s leverage is gone, and while its technical accomplishments and speed in embracing other platforms is laudable, it’s not clear that the software giant will ever regain its mojo on the client.

Microsoft has circled the wagons around productivity, a market it still dominates and, to be fair, has the best products. This makes sense. But the 25 years after “The Internet Tidal Wave,” it’s amazing how unsure and clear the future is. At the time of the memo, Bill Gates could simply declare a direction, and Microsoft would both follow through and succeed. Today, Satya Nadella does the same, and Microsoft quickly follows through. But that success bit is still an open question.

Read the full article which also includes a high-quality version of Gates’ memo in its entirety.

Source: Petri.com (via Zeldman)

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