by Martin Veitch

If Great Episodes in IT Were Cheap Novels

Jul 15, 2010
IT Leadership

It’s been a while since we imagined a fanciful scenario whereby phenomena of the information technology industry were magicked by some strange alchemy into something very different. It’s a Kafka-esque (some say Borgesian) approach that has paid a rich dividend in the past as we’ve looked at what might transpire were IT companies were by some twist of fate metamorphosed into football teams (and again), rock bands, movies, biscuits and so on. My colleague Mark Chillingworth even nipped through the inside in a high-risk manoeuvre to recite a singular narrative should IT companies become Grand Prix teams.

In all honesty and with due respect for the reader it has been suggested that the franchise has become a little worn over time and that the belly laughs have dried up, the grin of recognition has faded and even the arched-eyebrow of appreciation has become a rarity. But it’s Friday in England, the sun in the powder-blue sky smiles on us all promising dry and clement weather throughout the day, dappled light filters through my commuting train window, ladies wear sun dresses and gentlemen sport straw boaters and striped blazers as they wend their way to the cricket at Lords. Listen carefully and you might hear the sound of the cuckoo, woodpecker and blackbird on the wing. God’s in his heaven and all’s well with the world; it’s all for the best in this best of all possible worlds.

So let’s get on with it by thinking what could happen if some of the legends of the biz were turned into one of those old penny dreadfuls, Mills & Boon tales or airport trash reading, with If Great Episodes in IT Were Cheap Novels.

Over His Dead Body. Lawrence Jose[h ‘Larry’ Ellison was in his early 60s yet remained a powerful and virile man. With $40bn in the bank and a string of successful enterprises behind him, including mega-company Oracle Corp., he cut a swathe everywhere he went with his talk of racing yachts, fast cars, fighter jets and the organisation of tables in relational database management systems. But when Ellison’s roving eye landed on software giant PeopleSoft and he proposed a merger, things soon turned hostile. It wasn’t just PeopleSoft’s pugnacious founder Dave Duffield he had to contend with, but an army of bureaucrats from Wall Street to Brussels. Ellison was circled and surrounded with seemingly no place to go… yet he was determined to pull off the greatest victory of his glorious career!

Return With Interest.Steve Jobs had been a contender: he had founded Apple Computer, one of the first companies to make computers usable and fun… until he was ousted by hard-faced business men who thought a GUI was some sort of cupcake or cookie, leaving his old rival Bill Gates to pick up the billions washing around the new oil gusher of bits and bytes. After years in the wilderness, Jobs managed to claw back some kudos, building tiny start-ups into serious companies. So when a mismanaged Apple Computer was on its knees. who could it turn to but good old Stevie? The pundits thought he might do a decent salvage job but his ambitions were a tad bigger: to build the most valuable goddamn com company in the world!

Windows On The Soul. Despite being boyish-looking even into his 30s, Bill Gates had the world at his feet. He provided the software for almost every business personal computer on the planet, providing him with infinite riches… but he didn’t want to stop there! Gates’s crazy plan: to bring colour into the life of every user in the world through a new program that would let them match colour schemes to their personalities and moods, switch between programs in a snap and even have more than one of them open at a time. If that weren’t hard enough, he also had to face a mad cult that insisted he has stolen their original idea…

PARC Of Sorrow.California in the 1960s: Agriculture is still big business and almost nobody owns a computer in the whole of this vast, fertile, sunshine state hugging the left side of the United States of America. While the rest of the country is letting its hair grow and experimenting with new, wild lifestyles, loud music and fast women there stands a non-descript building in open grounds: the Palo Alto Research Centre. Not many know it but it’s is the scene of some of the most mind-blowing inventions of this groovy time. A way to control computers using a mouse! A machine that will put on paper exactly what you see in front of you! A screen that has pictures you point at and click on! They’re a trippy bunch, alright but getting there first doesn’t always mean you win the prize. This is the sad tale of how the smartest guys on the planet could have had it all… but others cashed in.

The Penguin Dreamer.Mile-mannered bespectacled programmer Linus Torvalds lives in a wild, remote region thousands of miles away from Silicon Valley. Just for fun he cuts code and accepts contirbutions from other hackers all over the world, accepting penguin dolls for people who use and like the program. But slowly the man from nowhere discovers he has built the most popular operating system on the World Wide Web and revolutionised the entire industry!