Kearns' column: Dark days ahead for Microsoft

Alex Lash, writing in our sister publication The Industry Standard, called it "A Gloomy Day in Redmond." The gloom, though, should spread throughout the world of those who rely on Windows for their livelihoods because Brad Silverberg has left Microsoft, and this time it will most likely be forever.

It seems like ancient history, but it was only nine years ago that Brad came to Redmond to work for Microsoft, a company that had DOS, MS-Basic and Word, just one of a handful of word processor packages that at the time trailed market leader WordPerfect. There was also a little-used graphical user interface environment for DOS called Windows.

Soon, Silverberg was put in charge of Windows 3.1 development, and the rest is history. Windows 3.1 led to the proliferation of Microsoft's business-application market -- Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Access and, further down the line, Exchange and SQL Server.

Not ready to rest on his laurels, though, Silverberg immediately plunged into the development of Windows 95. But even while managing the most successful operating system launch ever, Brad knew stand-alone computers, and even departmental networks, were on their last legs. The Internet, the nascent Web, was poised to be the next big thing in computing. Silverberg knew it, but few others at Microsoft were aware -- in the spring of 1995, Bill Gates proclaimed that Microsoft had no interest in the Internet. Fortunately, the brighter mind of Silverberg prevailed. What would become Windows NT 5.0/Windows 2000 was in its early stages at that time, and -- for some reason -- Silverberg was passed over in favor of Jim Allchin as the mother hen for this, yet again, revolutionary new product. Feeling hurt, Brad took a leave of absence to consider what to do next.

He came back to Redmond earlier this year, in response to a direct plea from Gates, to try to halt the tide of bad press resulting from the antitrust trial and the interminable delays in getting Windows 2000 out the door. But it was too late, the damage was already done.

So Silverberg is gone from the Microsoft campus. It's a gloomy day for all of us, but a tragic day for Microsoft.

Kearns, a former network administrator, is a freelance writer and consultant in Austin, Texas. He can be reached at wired@vquill.com.

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