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Shady Illuminations

Train Wreck

by John Shade

Generic image illustrating the article
  In the good old days, it only took Microsoft 3.1 versions to get it right, but these days they have to put at least a half-dozen locomotives in the ditch in their effort to find themselves.  

We all love a train wreck.

I think I speak for everyone when I say there’s nothing we enjoy more than watching stuff blow up—or implode or somehow get wrecked. There’s the wholesale carnage of the classic disaster movie, from Towering Inferno to 2012, but the more narrowly targeted wreck motifs are sometimes even more satisfying. Every action feature must have a scene where the hero buddies leap from the exploding something just ahead of the ball of fire and shock wave. What we call car chases, a stock element of movies, are really usually car pileups, especially in light-hearted comedies. And of course nothing’s funnier than watching pedestrians scatter as the good guys smash some foreign entrepreneur’s fruit stand. But train wrecks are the gold standard. The slow inexorability of the chain-reaction disaster takes the simple pleasure of watching something blow up and smears it out over time. No wonder it’s the metaphor of choice for a plan that is so clearly going so very very wrong. Like the Microsoft-Nokia deal. Everybody can see that those tracks are torn up and this train is careening headlong for a spectacular cinematic derailment denoument. Beautiful.

Of course if you work for Nokia you might have a hard time seeing the fun in the impending disaster. Being too close to the action can distort your perspective.

Bill and Coup

It can’t be much fun to hear the deal described as a coup, a major blunder that makes Google look good, or as Microsoft buying Nokia for $0. You can’t enjoy seeing your new management described as a puppet government, or reading that your company is toast or that the announcement was effectively a “suicide note.”

If it were just journalists dumping on you it wouldn’t be so bad. But Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s are considering downgrading your rating, your stock tanked, and your fellow employees sat out in protest (although with the generous flex time in Finland, it was hard to tell). Not to mention that your own CEO said you were on a burning platform, pouring gasoline on the fire. He went on to say that you weren’t even fighting with the right weapons. You brought devices to an ecosystem fight.

Still, Microsoft has more cash than the Koch brothers, and that has to count for something, assuming Microsoft ultimately figures out the market. In the good old days, it only took Microsoft 3.1 versions to get it right, but these days they have to put at least a half-dozen locomotives in the ditch in their effort to find themselves. In a post filed under “nostalgia,” Horace Dediu recalled former mobile/telecom partners of Microsoft and where they ended up. LG: moved to Android, Motorola: now droid-only, Palm: sold self to HP, Nortel: bankrupt, Verizon: droid, Sendo: bankrupt.

Ed Burnette, hardly a knee-jerk Microsoft basher, translates the Microsoft-Nokia announcement as “When we grow up, we want to have fanbois like those Apple and Google guys,” and calls the deal all vaporware and press releases.

Robert Scoble doesn’t think the deal is a train wreck, but you can’t take much consolation in that. He thinks your current operating system sucks, you have no apps, and you’re stupid. He says you could have gone with Android, but your executives weren’t smart enough to make it work. “You add that up as a salad,” he suggests inexplicably, just before calling you all nuts.

Your enemies are merciless: Google VP Vic Gundotra says of the deal, “two turkeys don’t make an eagle.” One writer derided Microsoft Phone 7’s “complete dearth of features.” And the Register points out a familiar feature of the deal: no mention of exclusivity on Microsoft’s part. That’s the standard Microsoft pre-nup: we get to cheat.

Always Look on the Bright Side of Life

But just because everybody thinks you’re headed for a train wreck is no reason why you should wallow in despair. It could work out. I’m pretty sure I saw this tweeted somewhere:

Many at Nokia are optimistic about the deal.–#kentbrockman

John Shade was born under a cloud in Montreux, Switzerland, in 1962. His parents were a Russian novelist and a line from Timon of Athens. Subsequent internment in a series of obscure institutions of ostensibly higher learning did nothing to brighten his outlook.

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