Big Tech and the Cycle of (In)Competence
(Note: The Bear is done discussing the election and will be trending away from general politics to focus on cultural issues including topics such as entertainment, travel, technology, and food)
I’m a software programmer that works with or has worked with a large swath of different programming languages, frameworks, and different types of technologies over the years. I’m currently the sole developer for a small business that I work for remotely. I build mobile apps for iOS and Android. I set up email, web, and database servers. I do both front end and back end for web sites. I use multiple operating systems and I’m pretty smooth with a command line interface. I use multiple editors from Atom to Visual Studio Code to create and work with code. I’ve built deep learning applications. I enjoy my job quite a bit and I enjoy working with technology.
Over the years, I’ve seen multiple large sea changes in the tech industry. I started really young on computers and my first computer was an Apple IIe but by the time that I was 10 or 11 Apple had moved to a much more niche position as a high-end product for music and video editing while Microsoft was the dominant computer people purchased for everyday tasks. By the time I was in my early 20’s, Microsoft’s Windows was the primary operating system with the most popular browser. My first job out of university was in New York City at an all Windows shop which means they bought licenses from Microsoft to run their platform - Microsoft Outlook for their email server, MS SQL for their database, and Windows Server for web sites and main applications.
Microsoft was the entrenched force to go up against in almost every field related to computer servers. At their peak and dominance now, they then began to make a series of bad decisions that didn’t seem to make sense from a business stance that would continue for well over a decade. Apple had launched the iPod which was a game changer in those days. You mean I could sit on the subway with music in my ears and enough storage that I could listen to different albums over multiple days? That was a big deal! Microsoft then launched the Zune media player which was almost no different from the iPod. Apple then launched the iPhone – Microsoft launched the Windows phone platform but who remembers that? Microsoft was no longer creating new and innovative projects but was content to copy others. The brain drain didn’t stop there, though. Open source server projects like Apache for web servers, MySQL for databases, and Ubuntu for main servers made huge strides while Microsoft’s server products became more bloated with complicated features that weren’t usable except in the most extreme situations while the initial knowledge required to setup something simple was exponentially increased. Their simple ASP programming language was upgraded to ASP.NET with zero way to upgrade an ASP application to the new version.
Microsoft had truly lost its way and it didn’t have anything to do with the US antitrust suit settled in 2001. It simply wasn’t able to have a cohesive vision anymore as it struggled under its own weight. It was bloated and bureaucratic and the culture that ran the show there didn’t want ingenuity or to try anything that had risk and could fail. It had fallen victim to its own success. However, that wasn’t the end of Microsoft. In 2015, it began a completely new dynamic as it shed old products and embraced open source. It no longer charges a fee for a basic copy of Windows. The new Microsoft really shows in many ways and they have some exciting software in the works. Visual Studio Code is my new favorite editor to write code on and it comes in Linux which is the operating system I use almost exclusively. Comebacks can happen.
I bring up the example of Microsoft because it really was the Big Tech of its day. A mammoth titan of its industry and almost without challenge to its dominance and we’re seeing that same sort of cycle of incompetence with today’s tech powerhouses. I complain to the Lib of the House on a regular basis about things I see in today’s tech.
Apple – why do I have to purchase both a MacBook and an iPhone or iPad to build and test my apps when Android is cross-platform between both Linux and Windows? Microsoft had the same practices where it would ignore other vendors but that eventually was one of the things that helped bring it low. Why is the consumer hardware so costly when I know the processors involved aren’t amazing? How long will people continue to pay such an overcharge for a Retina screen?
Facebook – why do you have such a bug filled news feed? Why when I unfollow a friend do that person’s posts still display in my feed? Why when I turn on notifications for some of my closest friends will I not get a notification when that person posts? I shouldn’t have to scan the feed to see what specific are people are doing when I specifically said to alert me.
Google – don’t even get me started on this company. We know they censor what their search results returned tailored for a leftist agenda. They actively deplatform conservatives on YouTube which pushes me off their platform to something like BitChute which seems like an active act of self-sabotage. The Tensorflow deep learning framework was so difficult to work with that people immediately dropped it when Keras showed up. What happened to the company with the motto “Don’t be evil?”
There’s a twofold problem here. The first is that these companies are at their zeniths in terms of size and revenue which makes them want to avoid risk. All three companies regularly buy platforms that would possibly compete with them and then integrate them into their own platform. The second is that leftism cancel culture has become the dominant thought process in the companies which naturally limits creativity. In many ways, cancel culture will eventually also be the victim of its own success. Without innovation and the ability to think out of the box these companies will simply stagnate like Microsoft did until there is a major shake up and when that finally happens cancel culture will have to be driven out, too. However, there’s a good opportunity these companies will continue to stagnate over the next few years until that happens.
You might have wondered why I did mention Twitter. I didn’t... because the problem at that company is pretty evident.