What should we make of the surprise news that the cyberpope
himself, Bill Gates, is to take a back seat from the day-to-day
management of Microsoft - and let his lieutenants take turns at clicking
It’s the kind of bold move that only people who own large chunks of a
company can afford to take. Andy Grove of Intel fame probably got it
about right when he noted that in IT, as in business generally, it’s
only the paranoid that survive. Given the rapid turnover in most
marketing departments, even popping out for a sandwich could prove a
foolhardy career move.
Still, as I risk a few days off, and scribble this column with a stubby
pencil instead of a PC, it occurs to me that what’s most satisfying
about holiday working is being able to produce something without having
to ring computer support almost every time just to print the damn thing
It’s amazing that since the skids started going under Apple, I can’t
think of one hardware or solutions outfit that has really picked up the
torch to make, market and support superior systems to people who have no
intrinsic interest in the actual computers. I mean since when did your
mates ask you for full details of the composition of the lead in your
Happiness, my friends, is a week without error messages.
Most computer trouble seems to occur when companies migrate in stages
from one system to another. Equally, some programmes are running locally
on our PCs, while others are merrily crashing on networks powered by
mysterious servers. These, I’m reliably informed, are presided over by
people earning three times as much money as we are.
I mention all this because smarter computer users have now twigged that
Gates’s Way to Heaven, until now, has been to persuade us to constantly
upgrade our applications - with little thought as to the long-term cost
of keeping them working with everything else across an organisation.
But I’ve also seen at first hand how large concerns such as the Woolwich
and Scottish Widows are taking a firm grip of their IT spending. They’re
careful not to be pulled onto this upgrade escalator until the cost of
the extra support can be fully justified.
What this means is that Microsoft and a hundred other computer companies
are going to have to come up with some really whizzy new products. It’s
no good just adding virtual bells and whistles to all their old ones,
and banking on the cybercash to keep rolling in.
Equally, forward-thinking industry players will be those that start
ditching many of their uniquely dismissive industry service conventions
- and start behaving like grown-up service companies.
My personal computer support counsellor tells me that Windows 98 is
pretty bug free. But I used to love that line: What’s the difference
between Windows 95 and a virus? Answer: the virus does something.
Nigel Cassidy is Business Correspondent of BBC Radio 4’s Today