Saving Private Windows

I heard from Mike Arrington this morning. Good to hear the familiar voice now wrapped in the aura of rich and retired. Of course, he’s no fool and realizes quitting is not an option. If we stop doing whatever that is, we throw life in the dumpster. Nothing good follows. He may be crazy but he’s not stupid.

How come you’re not writing for us, he begins. Actually, he tries first to confirm some rumor he’s either been fed or made up about Salesforce. I recognize this is as a test, designed to illustrate my ethically challenged new reality now that I work for Marc Benioff instead of just plain admiring what he and his company are doing from the alleged neutrality of the media. That while asking me to resume writing: Please deliver your debunked credibility to my (uh, AOL’s) firebrand flagship disruptive media leader.

So I remind him of the numerous times I’ve sat next to him as he rides around town beating the story out of some hapless deer caught in his headlights, and that he’s getting nothing because I’ve seen this movie. Unfortunately, what he really wants is for me to write some of this patented stream of consciousness drivel for him so I can be ignored and berated by the 12 year olds who are just waiting to push me into the grave and shovel the worm-riddled dirt over my irrelevant pundit ass.

By now I’m sure Mike is rethinking the idea, but at the time he called he was hoping I’d deliver some wisdom about the recent apparent retirement of Microsoft’s second Chief Software Architect, Ray Ozzie. Aside from some mean spirited but amusing Fake Steve and a smattering of reporting, most observers seemed content to go after Steve Ballmer and let Ray move on in graceful peace. But Arrington has a good instinct not only for what he does but also for the stuff others find interesting as the Big Picture spools on.

What he smells is this: Ozzie has moved on emotionally to reboot his imagination, his sense of wonder at what we can do when we honor that which is indistinguishable from magic with our time. It’s a powerful signal, that the grass is greener outside the Microsoft moat. It’s that fateful moment of a divorce, when one or both realize it’s time to jump so that the healing and rebirth can begin sooner.

Is covering a divorce a good way to spend my time? No, and why not. I miss the old Microsoft when Bill was King and we balanced awe and fear of the juggernaut that was Windows and Office. But now Jobs is King and the Cloud is an endlessly rejuvenating hub of innovation and opportunity. Windows is just a coat of paint, vital to keep the cracks from forming and the termites from digging in, but not a place from which we daydream. Office is well-maintained, clean, freshly swabbed down with the bracing smell of antiseptic.

But so what. Do I need a document to memorialize ideas or a file structure to file them or a location to store them? No, no, no. How many millions of iPads need to be sold to underline the profound nature of the disruption. I don’t care about the container, I love the iPad because it’s like the fourth wall we break through in the comedy club and become part of the scene. The stream is a living breathing thing, and we intuit that we can’t freeze dry information while it’s in the process of being born. The idea is the first breath that’s taken, the document is a shelter to protect the child until it can find the confidence to enter the dialogue, and the location of the spirit that’s unleashed is TBD.

We’re captivated not by the mechanics of the system but by the glimmer of awareness it suggests. Lotus Notes was like the liftoff from the surface of Tranquility Base: it was logical that it would work but amazing that it actually did. It may be hard to remember what it was like before the Web, but Notes was ungainly and hacked on top of a Windows that should have been called Window. Notes validated the idea that Windows was a platform you could build something bigger on. The collaboration is the computer.

With Notes, Ray discovered what happens when we think across boundaries. The very physicality of the chicklets, little rooms you could open up and rummage around in, code you could attach to make things happen even when you were out getting drunk or asleep. The idea that we could not only tame the neck-bolted Frankenstein that was Windows but that we could collaborate and free associate right under the noses of IT. No sexier than 5,000 Facebook friends, but for its time a landscape that drew me in and taught me that IP tunneling over the public net could produce a secret world hidden in plain site like the rooms we carved out of plowed snow banks as the day kept the snow malleable before night turned our work into smooth ice.

I’m not here to argue with Sir Tim and the WWW, but I remember what came before and after and that everything about Notes — from its complexity to its economics to its underlying assumption that collaboration could even be practical at all — changed who I was and what I expected. I was a child of the 60’s, a creature of first the 61 Yankees of Mantle and Maris and Kubek and Richardson and Berra and Skowrun and on and on, and then the Beatles of John and George et al, and then Kubrick and Annie Hall and: now what? The dream is over? It was no longer what I wanted to do when I grew up but instead 4 dead in Ohio.

Constructing the future on the 2001 soundstage and dragging McLuhan out from behind the sign was the inflection point, but when Woody Allen delivered the line “Boy, if only life were like this!” he was simultaneously making it so. Say what you will about the hairballs, but Notes made it so if you wanted to spend your time that way. It bound me to technology in a way that before was child’s play and after became a life’s work. Yes, bad things could happen to good people, but good things too.

But Ray’s not done and neither are we. In fact I think Ray wanted to go out and play and didn’t want to ask permission any more. I think it went something like this:

Hi, Steve it’s Ray. Listen, I quit. No, no, it’s not you, I just don’t want to spend another damn minute thinking about Saving Private Windows. How long? I was thinking about tomorrow. Oh, well then how about right now. I’ve been writing this stupid memo for hours now and I’ve run out of nice things to say about Sinofsky and the rest of those idiots. Steve, you’re the best but every time I write milestone it auto-corrects to millstone. In the time we’ve been chatting, Jobs has taken down 2 more carriers, bought and sold Disney, and almost rebooted the Mac as an iPad charging stand.

Now wait a minute Steve. That’s not right. I did stay here and finish what I started. I know, I’m just too nice about this, have been all along. Should have just shot one of those Office guys and ported it to the iPad whether you liked it or not. I told you it would be huge from minute one. Bill would have done it in a New York minute if he thought it would save the company. By the way, have you heard the new Neil Young record? It’s an angry world, you know.

What are you going to say? You’ll have to shout to be heard over the gloating. Just say I’ve gone insane and you had to do this for my own good. Of course I was just kidding about 3 screens and a cloud. It’s just the cloud. Jobs has all the screens. Rename it Sharepoint Azure and then drop Azure. Try it: we’re all in on the Sharepoint Cloud. Then rename Office Xboffice and Windows Phone the xPad. No, SharePad’s not bad either. See, Steve, it’s going to be fine.