Yet in the years after Gates stepped down as chief executive, in 2000, [Microsoft] began to bungle releases and lose out on basically every big market mover in tech, ceding ground to Google, Apple, Amazon and many others on smartphones, search and social networks, as well as online music, books and ads.
Many blamed Microsoft’s lost decade on chief executive Steve Ballmer, who, when he wasn’t serving as the sweaty punchline of some of the Internet’s earliest viral videos, was ridiculing the technologies that would leave Microsoft looking outmatched. Ballmer famously laughed at the iPhone, which he said had “no chance.” (“$500?” he said. “That is the most expensive phone in the world.”)
Some of you may remember the Palm Pilot of the late nineties. It was a handheld device with a four-inch monochrome touchscreen. To most people it looked like the electronic calendar and scheduler and note pad that it advertised itself to be.
But it was also programmable. You could write apps for it. So being the fresh-faced thirty-two-year-old that I was, my initiative not yet having been punished out of me, I bought one. And I purchased a handheld barcode scanner which I plugged into the Palm Pilot through a custom-wired interface. I then wrote an application to permit the scanning of barcodes for the purpose of tracking the movement of installed equipment owned by the technology company for which I then worked, all that data to be uploaded and synchronized with a central server.
See, that company was unable to properly depreciate the costs of its installed equipment for tax purposes, meaning that it was paying more taxes than necessary. And that added up to a significant sum every year. At any given time, they had no idea where any of their hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of equipment was. And I knew that. So I knew that my ticket out of a service van and into corporate headquarters lay in developing this system that would save the company millions.
Just my luck, the Vice President of Technical Operations happened to be making a tour of the field office where I worked. So I put together my dog and pony show and unveiled my brainchild with a complete demonstration of the scanning and tracking of a piece of equipment from warehouse to site and back again.
“What good would that be,” he says. “It doesn’t even have a CD ROM drive in it. We just spent a lot of money putting all our training documents on CD ROM so that the Field Service Techs can access them. This is useless.” (He actually said all that. This is a completely true story.)
“It doesn’t even have a CD ROM drive in it.” Hmm. Meditate for a moment upon that statement from the Vice President of Technical Operations, the guy who is supposed to be in charge of figuring out what the next hot product will be. (Spoiler alert: Don’t worry, within ten years the company would be bankrupt, unable to field a product that anyone wanted.)
“It doesn’t even have a CD ROM drive in it,” he says. Hmm… It doesn’t have a CD ROM drive… …It doesn’t have a CD ROM drive. …It doesn’t have a CD ROM drive.
The Palm Pilot was the progenitor of today’s thin-client computing devices like the iPhone and Android smartphones. Thin clients ARE NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE drives in them. It’s kind of the whole point. I was able see past the nose on my own face. I knew that someday everyone would carry in their pocket a thin client.
(But have no fear. The company later came around to my way of thinking. Eighteen months later, some middle manager who was present at my demonstration rolled out precisely the same system. He was feted as a genius of innovation. He scored himself a promotion and a fat raise. He saved the company millions, you see. And you should fear not for this reason as well: After our middle manager magically came up with the same idea, I went on strike. But it was a secret strike. I didn’t tell anyone that I was on strike. So for my remaining six years at the company, I didn’t do a lick of work. Oh sure, maybe I carried a tool bag here and there and milled around and ostentatiously turned a screw driver if I thought someone might benefit by seeing me do that, but I didn’t actually do anything. So I collected paychecks for six years while doing absolutely nothing. Ha ha.)
The point of this meandering story is that I can see the future. So you had better quit your hyena laughs and your rib-tickling notions of mental health services and non-bizarre delusions, because I can see past the nose on my own face. If I tell you, for example, that you will see competing constabularies on the same public thoroughfares in their separate police cruisers, it is going to happen.
If I tell you that the federal jurisdiction is dead and that its collapse is imminent, it is going to happen.
I am America’s Senior Comedian. Thank you for your kind attention in this matter.