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Thursday, October 13, 2005

Microsoft vs. Google: Count Zero coming true

In 1987 William Gibson released Count Zero, the sequel to his award-winning novel Neuromancer (hard to believe it's now over 20 years since that book first came out). One of the three stories in Count Zero - which eventually tightened together into the story's central plot - focused on Turner: a mercenary-type who specializes in helping scientists and executives defect from one company to another. See, in the near-future depicted in Gibson's "Sprawl trilogy" (which concluded in Mona Lisa Overdrive), cutting-edge technology is such a cutthroat business that corporate talent needs a small army to get extracted from the highly-fortified compound of a multinational conglomerate in order to make a career change. Needless to say, the company that the defector is fleeing from is not happy about losing a chunk of its braintrust to a competitor.

Count Zero comes to mind now that Microsoft has lost at least two executives - including one of their top computer scientists - to Google. An enraged Microsoft CEO Steven Ballmer reportedly threw a chair after one of the execs told him about an imminent departure for Google. The big fear at Microsoft now is that Google is going to be hiring even more staff from the "House that Gates Built". Part of that is the worry that Google will be offering word processor and spreadsheet applications over the web, instead of having to pay Microsoft several hundreds of dollars for MS Word and Excel.

It's almost enough to chalk up one more mark for things that William Gibson foretold in his books. First it was the Internet (Gibson is the man who first came up with the term "cyberspace"), now it's (nearly) all-out war between rival corporations. Maybe someday soon we'll have "simstim" also.