Tolkien’s epic, The Lord of the Rings, is familiar to most of us. In one memorable scene, Frodo freely offers the Ring to the Lady Galadriel, and she tests Frodo’s dedication to his mission. It occurred to me that Microsoft’s role in the rising battle of mobile device ecosystems resembles Galadriel’s confrontation with Frodo.
“In place of the Dark Lord,” she proclaims, “you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night. Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain … All shall love me and despair!”
Sure sounds like Microsoft in the PC era. But now the equation is different. It is sad to hear Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer respond to cries for a competitor to the iPad and the Android and Apple app ecosystems by promising that Microsoft will have “slates” sometime soon, and that Microsoft is “all in.”
Mr Ballmer simply can’t see that Microsoft’s era has passed. Yes, Microsoft, like IBM before it, will remain a powerful force that dominates many markets – even interactive TV – but now the battle royal is between Apple and Google.
I suppose that under closer scrutiny, the comparison breaks down – who could imagine Microsoft as an Elven Queen? Yes, I suppose you can say that The Ring equates to market leadership that Microsoft once had in the PC era. But, as in the outcome of Frodo and Galadriel’s confrontation, Google, Apple and RIM are not about to cede it freely to Microsoft.
Maybe Microsoft’s situation in the post-Windows era is more like the passage of Frodo’s Fellowship through the Mines of Moria, but I won’t introduce another metaphor here. “And they call it a mine. A mine!”
It remains to be seen whether, like Galadriel before it, Microsoft passes the test. But it looks like Microsoft, like Galadriel, “will diminish, and go into the West,” and remain Microsoft.
(with apologies to JRR Tolkien and all holders of his intellectual property and its licensees)