Microsoft reality check

Did you ever hear the warning, "Be careful what you wish for, it might come true?" Well, because Microsoft is the company most people love to hate, I decided to ask a cross-section of industry cognoscenti this simple question: What would happen if Microsoft and all its technology disappeared tomorrow? Would security problems disappear?

"Initially, panic in the streets," says Tony Meadow, president of Bear River Associates. "[Microsoft] didn't establish [its standards] in a nice sort of way, but they are the basis for a lot of things that we use and do with computers."

Today you can send a Word document to anybody in the world and expect them to be able to open it. The reality is that it takes forever for people to agree to these kinds of standards.

From a security perspective, if Microsoft disappeared no one vendor would have a 95 percent market share and worms could not spread as fast. "Heterogeneity is a powerful positive," says John Pescattore, vice president for Internet security at Gartner.

We would also find out how bad the Linux and Apple vendors are at providing patches, compared to what [customers] got used to from Microsoft," he said.

Marty Cooper, the man who invented the mobile phone when he was at Motorola, thinks a world without Microsoft would be a disaster -- but only because we would have to learn somebody else's complex system.

"Good technology is transparent and invisible," Cooper says, "and we're not there yet."

Finally I asked our in-house tech guru, Jon Udell, what he thought. On the whole, he thought Microsoft's disappearance would be a good thing, saying, "I hope it would jump-start the kind of competitive innovation we haven't seen for a long time."

What do I think? It is not an accident that Microsoft and its hardball tactics have succeeded all these years. They did not happen accidentally. Like the roots of a plant searching for water, the high-tech industry itself created Microsoft in order to survive.

If Microsoft didn't exist, we'd have to invent it.

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