Memo To Bill Gates

A memo from Gates has been leaked where he says Microsoft is "at risk" from Google. I figured I would respond, so here is me composing a memo to that other Bill from the 1990s.

Mr. Software Architect.

Part of your problem is simply ageing. There was IBM, and then Microsoft came along, and Microsoft eclipsed IBM itself in market capitalization. You might be IBM, and Google might be Microsoft. Empires come and go. So at some level, just make peace.

I am a huge fan of your foundation though. I wish you were 10 times richer, I am so impressed with your work for health care in the poor countries. And of course you are a terribly smart, creative guy. I am easily a fan.

At some point I think a company like Microsoft should just plough in all that extra cash into becoming a venture capitalist firm, or at least growing a wing in that direction, I think. It is young scientists and the entrepreneurs who come up with the cuttinge edge ideas, or at least in most cases.

I think your problem is that you thought you woke up to the internet in 1995, and you did not. Then you thought you did it in 2000, and you did not. Now you think you are doing it in 2005, and you are not. For good or ill, Microsoft remains a Windows company. Microsft never really became a dot com.

But if Microsoft were to reinvent itself, what might it do? Here are some suggestions I offer.
  • You don't have to ditch Windows outright, but shift focus to the online world. That is the present and the future. Down the road, Windows either disappears, or becomes invisible.
  • Could you take word processing online, and could you make it ad-based? Do you even want to?
  • Could you take the lead on becoming a digital publisher? License Google's ad program if you have to, if you can't replicate it. But noone is taking publishing online. Maybe you can take the lead. All books - textbooks, fiction, non-fiction - should go online and be free, as in ad-based. Could you take the lead on that one? You are the leader in word processing offline. Could you go online?
  • You have had some interesting thoughts on speech recognition technology in the past. What is the progress there? Keep working there. Noone seems to be competing with you there. Down the line people should be able to talk to their computer in any language.
  • Put as much work into your browser as you have been putting into your Windows and Office. Because W and O are passe. The browser will go far.
  • You have done good with non-PC devices. Maybe you should work on the software for "free" cellphones that will work in a citywide soup of wireless broadband.
  • The internet and wireless broadband are not one and the same thing, just like webpages and blogs are not one and the same. Don't get too hung up on the internet. Think wireless broadband.
  • Expand your facilities in India. It's not just about cheap, smart engineers. India is going to be a huge market on its own.
  • Google itself has said there is room for more than one player in the search market. Search is the center piece of the Google magic. Get in the action. Keep working at it.
  • See if you can imitate Google. They like to offer web services that are online and ad-based. If those two parameters are too narrow for you, you are not competing with Google. Wean yourself away from the habit of asking people for money directly.
More later.

December 7: Microsoft To Invest $1.7 Billion In India (BusinessWeek)

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