The Microsoft leader sent an internal memorandum in which he alerted his company that the future was passing through the network, which he described as “crucial for every part of the business”
In 1995 Bill Gates was, according to Forbes, the richest man in the world, with a fortune of 12,000 million. At 39, he was also the youngest in the top ten on the list. Considered the king of software , computers around the world already carried the programs of Microsoft, the company he had founded and of which he was the main brain. He had even allowed himself to buy Leonardo da Vinci manuscripts for $ 30 million. But from the crest of that wave, Gates realized that a much bigger one was coming, that of the Internet, and that only those who dominated it would control the business in the following decades.
On May 26, 1995, 25 years ago today, Gates opened his heart and his company to the promises of that tsunami. He did so through a nine-page memorandum addressed to the company’s directors that was precisely entitled The Internet Tsunami . Many of his expressions show the past quarter of a century. “Double click on them to open them online!” Suggested the document to explain how hyperlinks work. But in general it was the writing of a visionary who time gave the reason in many things. A call to focus all of the company’s efforts on the network that Gates described as “crucial to every part of the business.”
“He was a little late, but still for six months. In 1995 he realized that he had to get on his feet and start running. In fact, it is quite correct in the diagnosis it makes. At the end of the day, Gates can be criticized for many things he did during the 90s, but that he is a genius is quite indisputable ”, says César Córcoles , director of the postgraduate course in Web Application Development at the UOC.
“Even the CD-ROM market will be dramatically affected by the Internet,” Gates guessed. He also drew the sketch of what we now call a smartphone. “A scary possibility that Internet fans are discussing is whether they should come together to create something less expensive than a PC and that has enough power to surf the web,” he warned. The advertising model that today allows you to monetize the web? He also had it in mind: “I think the Internet will become our most important promotional vehicle. Including links to our pages will be a good way to spend advertising dollars. ” Not even the video calls escaped him. Although he acknowledged that the technology of the moment only allowed very choppy communications -even in audio exchanges-, he was convinced that the increasing speed of the Internet would eventually consolidate these communications and open the door to the reproduction of video in real time ( streaming ) .
In August of the same year the company delivered on the promise announced in the memorandum and launched its browser to compete with the then dominant Netscape. In 1998, a report by the International Data Corporation (IDC) certified Microsoft’s first victory: it had conquered 48.3% of the market compared to 41.5% of its rival. Over the years, Netscape faded away, while Internet Explorer grew to account for 95% of users. From the ashes of the pioneering browser, Mozilla Firefox resurfaced, an open source project that continues to be the flagship of the open Internet.
In 2015, cornered by Mozilla and Google, and without a presence in the Android and iOS operating systems, Microsoft announced the end of Internet Explorer and the birth of Edge, which today has a market share of 4.6%. “Now they have a browser that they control, open source, that integrates well with web standards and that they can use in their entire strategy. The goal is not to win; it means being in the game in a reasonable way ”, Corcoles explains.
The tension between that first generation of network giants exploded in 1998, with the case of the United States against Microsoft, in which the company was accused of abusing its monopoly power , based on the broad dominance of its operating system and its Web navigator. The battle lasted until 2002, and ended with the company’s commitment to reveal parts of the Windows code and allow manufacturers to modify the programs included by default in the operating system. “This is related to the culture and the business model. Microsoft’s technology couldn’t compete with the robustness of Linux, but they had a relatively captive enterprise market. Until they saw the ears of the wolf ”, explains Guillermo de Haro, doctor in Economics.
In its most recent stages, the company has started a redemption process that peaked a couple of weeks ago, with the statements of Brad Smith, current president of the company, at an MIT event: “Microsoft was on the wrong side of the story when open source exploded at the turn of the century, and I can talk about it personally. ” For De Haro, it is a reasonable transition already followed by Steve Jobs, initially reluctant, when he agreed to open the APIs of the Apple store for other programmers to create products. “When you have such a large community working, you can grow much faster and more solidly. And if your competitors adopt it and you don’t adapt, you can disappear ”