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Monday, June 07, 2004
Six Degrees of Competition
So anyway, I'm taking half a day to catch up on some of the miscellaneous bits and pieces that intrigue me but aren't necessarily all that important -- a process which naturally starts with rummaging around on the Web to see what new things I should be adding to that list.

Since Jeff Reifman's Seattle Weekly piece has made a second appearance on Slashdot and seems to continue to attract attention, I'll note a couple of related items...

Item 0: What is Mr. Reifman doing that he has to reboot XP every day?
I think that I'm pretty much OS agnostic (I split my workdays between a machine running Windows XP and one running Gentoo linux), but I'm as inclined as any tech snob to engage in a little casual MS bashing -- it's easy, and it's fun! Nevertheless, it's been at least a couple of years since I've had to reboot my Windows workstation daily. In fact, the last time I rebooted either of my current machines was when we were renovating the office and had to cut power for a day.

Item 1: Microsoft's biggest competition, in some sense, is itself.
Maybe not directly, but I think that it's true that MS is in a pretty well unique position, where the company needs to think very carefully about what effect one division's releases may indirectly have upon its other divisions. Does this mean that MS will no longer grow at unprecedented, absurd rates? Yes, that seems likely. Does this mean that MS is effectively dead, and that the coming years will be nothing more than a gradual process of small, agile companies picking the flesh from MS's dead and bloated carcass? No, that doesn't seem real likely. Cash reserves, good business people, reputation, and (yes, it's true) good developers are powerful tools, and MS has all of these things.

The really interesting part of this is that MS is dealing with problems that are unique to MS, and I think that only the psychic or painfully brilliant will be able to predict what might happen. Alas, I don't fall into either of these categories, but this does remind me of a story that I've wanted to note down for a while...

Way back in the year 1999 DCB (Dot Com Boom), the company that I worked for was about to be acquired by one of the giants of the era -- a New Economy juggernaut that had business units that touched pretty much everyone who had ever seen a computer. As the deal rolled along, the members of our technology department (of which I was a part) were presented with JuggerNaut's non-compete agreement and invited to a group meeting to discuss this agreement.

"It says here," began one of our developers, "that if I sign this, I can't work for any company that competes with you for a period of two years after leaving JuggerNaut. Don't you compete with pretty much everybody?"

"Well, yes," said the JuggerNaut representative, "but we don't really enforce this non-compete. We just like to have it signed...just in case, you know."

"Just in case what?" asked the developer, "I'm a web programmer -- that's what I do. 'Just in case' I want to work anywhere in the two years after I leave JuggerNaut? If you don't plan on enforcing it, wouldn't it be simpler for everybody if I just didn't sign it?"

The discussion went downhill from there, and even though the deal eventually died, several significant members of the technology department went elsewhere rather than work for JuggerNaut.

People who could have made significant contributions to JuggerNaut were leery of going there, because JuggerNaut was leery of people learning "too much" about the business. There is a real concern there on the part of JuggerNaut: when you're competing with everyone, how can you every feel secure about what you're doing and who you have doing it? How do you deal with it when six degrees of competition include pretty much every other company out there, plus the guy sitting three cubicles away from you?

Wish I knew. I'd probably be a lot richer right now.
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