Steve Jobs, Microsoft and prediction

One of the few consolations in getting older, and more experienced, is the recognition that we don’t know as much about how things are going to turn out as people often like to believe.

This can be taken way too far, of course. We have to make some kind of predictions about the consequences of various actions, and often we have quite ample evidence upon which to do so. I believe 21st century science is in fact rather more effective at prediction, in some areas, than is convenient for a lot of people to accept. Thus, e.g., while it could be that in 2200 someone will look back at climate change concerns and wonder “what was all of that fuss about, really,” I think we can safely discount this possibility in making choices about technological paths to pursue.

Nonetheless—and acknowledging that there is no clean division—certain social outcomes seem far more resistant to prediction even with all the algorithms and computing power of the modern world.

I am especially bemused, in a comforting way, every time I recall the reaction of Bill Gates to Steve Jobs’s return to Apple. Back in 1999, Gates expressed bafflement at why Jobs would reattach himself to Microsoft’s obviously defeated rival in the platform wars. “Why would he do that? He has to know that he can never win.”

Fast-forward 16 years, and this has for some time offered up a chuckle or two. I’m quite over adoration of the late Steve Jobs, now, but it still amuses me to reflect on how ludicrously wrong one of the world’s richest men can be. Apple had already surpassed Microsoft in more ways than not, by Jobs’s exit. Lately it seems like tech media regard Microsoft more as the interesting challenger, in fact. Coverage of Redmond’s new MacBook Pro competitor has largely followed these lines, and yet even here…

Via slashdot, one industry pundit writes that “Microsoft really believes that it has to have a combined hardware, software, and services play to go up against the likes of Apple.” Like, y’know, was seen as the fatal mistake of Apple for so long… and yet, perhaps, not so long after all.

It makes me laugh, at least. More and more, it seems like the Life of Brian… which is all the more reason to appreciate that third element when you can.

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