AT LARGE: Just not cricket

AT LARGE: Just not cricket

It has been both a glorious and a disappointing summer. Of course I'm not referring to the weather, about which nothing can be done by mortal man. I'm referring, rather, to the cricket. I know for an absolute fact that my team does better when I cheer loudly enough at the cricket, so I feel qualified to comment on the quality of this summer's games.

It's always nice to see the Australians doing well (readers from New Zealand may disagree), and an "invincible" summer has been a long time coming. But wouldn't it have been nicer if the other teams had put up just a little bit more of a fight?

I recall one of the one-day matches between Australia and the West Indies, in which the Aussies, batting first, posted a reasonable total, and the Windies were struggling to make the ground. About halfway through their innings, West Indian wickets had been falling like, well, West Indian wickets, but Brian Lara, magically, kept them within sight of the runs. It was a brilliant performance, tragically cut short when the rain came down, and the weird maths decided that Australia had won it.

But just before the flood, I got the feeling that everyone watching was feeling exactly the same thing I was: finally, we've got a fight on our hands.

Thinking back on it, as the finals series draws to a conclusion even more foregone than a Schwarzennegger movie, my sole wish is not for victory but for a tougher competition, a thought crosses my mind: does Bill Gates ever think like this?

No, seriously. Gates is in equal parts an astute businessman and a technological visionary, but more than these he is a determined competitor.

He thrives on out-manoeuvring, out-strategising, out-thinking those who challenge him. And while he has enjoyed great success, I wonder if he wishes the fight had been maybe just a little stronger.

Think about this: way back in the 1980s, he wrote a letter to John Sculley, then CEO of Apple, saying he should licence the Mac OS and Macintosh hardware to other manufacturers, that this was the only way to expand the Mac to the point where it could dominate personal computing. He even went so far as to outline the strategy by which such a program could be implemented effectively. And he included names and phone numbers of people to contact.

This was before Windows really worked, but it was during a time when Microsoft was working with IBM on building OS/2, and it was after he'd managed to (legally) pinch key bits of the Mac for his own product. His letter to Sculley was tantamount to one of the senior Australian cricketers telling the other team what the pitch is like, what the weather forecast says, and how that will affect team strategy. It's as if he was saying to Sculley, "I want to defeat you, but I really would appreciate it if you'd make it hard".

(Of course, I'm not saying any of the Australian cricketers would ever divulge such privileged information. It would be counter to the spirit of the game. Like underarm bowling.)When it emerged a couple of years ago that AOL's Steve Case and Netscape's Jim Barksdale had engaged in a conspiracy to co-operate with each other strategically, with a view to breaking Microsoft's market power, Gates should have been running to the FTC, crying "Foul! Collusion! Anticompetitive!"

Instead, all this emerged in the context of a hearing about how Microsoft had already reduced these two corporate titans to childish games.

Of course, Gates did cry foul, but only because he was trying to make it look as if he actually had competitors left. Like Zimbabwe finally giving the Aussies a good match after it had already been eliminated from the finals series, it was too little, too late. What if Netscape hadn't cut its own throat by giving away its only real product for free? What if Ian Harvey hadn't caught Heath Streak? We'll never know.

The same hearings in which "Stalin" Barksdale and "Roosevelt" Case confessed their secret little role playing also produced another farcical incident, when Gates nominated Be, Inc. as a potential challenger to Microsoft's market dominance. Be Inc. CEO Jean-Louis Gassee actually swore in an affidavit that BeOS was not, never had been, and never would be a competitor to Windows. Microsoft has its competitors so cowed they're terrified even to be identified as competitors. Gassee knows what competing with Microsoft did to Netscape and Apple. Gates, like Alexander, may weep knowing that there are no more worlds to conquer. I wonder if he also weeps because it was all too easy.

Matthew JC. Powell is a short backward square. Tease him on

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