by David Rosenbaum

Who Roots for Goliath? Stop Attacking Microsoft

Nov 01, 20053 mins
Software Development

Wilt Chamberlain, the late, great basketballer, was a voluble, quotable guy. Regrettably, his best remembered boast may well be from his 1991 autobiography, A View from Above, in which he claimed to have bedded more than 20,000 women. But the Stilt’s most piquant quote, the one that struck at the heart of his particular predicament as a man and a performer, was “Nobody roots for Goliath.”

During his prime years, Wilt, tall, almost supernaturally strong and agile, dominated the hardcourt to an extent that’s unimaginable today. He once scored 100 points in a game. In the 1961-62 season, he averaged more than 50 points a game.

And people hated him for it.

That, as he knew all too well, is human nature. Tear down the big guy, and maybe you won’t feel so small yourself.

On the technology stage, Microsoft has long played the role of Goliath. And for just as long, people have relished its struggles, its missteps, its embarrassments, ascribing all sorts of nefarious motives to its every move. This is not to say that the Redmond giant hasn’t made mistakes, or even that its motives have been above reproach. But inarguably Microsoft has been a convenient target, a symbol for all the vendors with whom CIOs have struggled, a convenient whipping boy for many of IT’s ills.

This may be changing. In “.Net, Web Services and the End of the Vendor Era” (Page 40), Senior Editor Scott Berinato notes that CIOs who once feared that .Net was part of an evil strategy designed to eternally lock them in to Microsoft products are now applauding it as a nice, robust development framework upon which they can hang their Web services. Far from being a way to lock them in, it turns out that .Net “fosters the technology neutrality they’re learning to expect.”

How did this happen? After all, Windows applications never played well with other vendor apps. But as is so often the case in business, the market drove the change. And in this case, CIOs led the market. As H&R Block CIO Marc West says simply, “We’re not going to use anything that’s hard to run in other environments.”

So what happens now? From now on, CIOs will have to focus on creating services the business can use, not architectures the business can’t understand. As Berinato writes, “If CIOs don’t provide value, it won’t be the vendors’ fault. It will be theirs.”

Because, to paraphrase Dick Nixon, another complex and iconic figure from the ’60s, they won’t have Goliath to kick around anymore.