A few weeks back, Bill Gates officially left his role at Microsoft. This Seattle Times piece did a great job of reminding me of something that has been on my mind for a while.
Bill Gates was the software industry’s visionary. If you checked out my post on Steve Jobs and Bill Gates at the All Things D conference and watched the entire video you saw Steve Jobs do something surprising: he praised Bill Gates in a huge way. He said something to the effect of: “Before Bill there was no software. He basically created the industry, dreamed it up.”
Now Bill is moving on to new frontiers. In so doing, he’s leaving the software industry with a huge void. Now, of course, there are many more people thinking about the future of the software industry and building for it than there were when he and Paul Allen were creating Microsoft. But, as I look around the landscape of software technology I find myself wondering if any of the up-and-coming folks are really visionaries in the way that Bill was: seeing a future that only existed in his head and creating the teams and the tools to build all of that future out.
- Is Ray Ozzie going to take Microsoft (and the world along with it) into the connected devices future that we’ve heard about for a decade? Is he going to teach the world that bits and bytes can exist everywhere, in different states (connected, silo’d, disconnected etc) and make life smarter as a result?
- Are Larry Page and Sergey Brin going to prove to us that software is only important insofar as it enables our online experience and that the offline experience is a minor nuisance to be served for only the next 5 to 10 years? Is the networked computer really going to be a reality on Eric Schmidt’s 3rd try?
- Is Mark Zuckerberg going to continue mapping the Microsoft platform gameplan and applying it to identity and social networking? Will he create the “Social Operating System” for the web and eventually come to own the “Social Graph” for the world?
Or is there someone else out there that will take Bill’s place in envisioning an entire industry of 1’s and 0’s that we have yet to really understand?
I think that Zuckerberg might be the favorite at this point. But the fact that he’s basically copying the Microsoft playbook makes me think twice. It makes me ask a very simple question: Was Microsoft copying someone else’s playbook when it went about building its business and the associated ecosystem?
It seems to me that they broke a lot of the “rules of business” in building their company. I don’t see a lot of rules that are being broken by Facebook yet. It makes me question just how big their impact will be.
Sometimes we get our heads very stuck in the details and the hype and forget to step back to see the large picture dynamics. Which is where the next Bill Gates will constantly focus his/her attention. That’s what makes Bill Gates… Bill Gates.
Perhaps it’s time that someone copied his memo-writing tradition in order to spread their vision of the future of the software industry. For the leadership / tech nerds among you, I urge you to check out some of the memos. Powerful stuff.