So, I just finished watching Steve Jobs and Bill Gates sitting down together at D5 - at least a little bit of it since only 2 of 7 segments have been uploaded. Steve Jobs made an impression on me that has changed my whole mindset on Microsoft as a company.
Microsoft has an ultra-competitive force inside it. Microsoft has made a lot of money by doing things that I don't approve of. Microsoft has been one of the primary reasons that the IT industry that I have come to make my living off of exists.
Steve Jobs made the point that at Apple, there was an enormous sense that in order for Apple to succeed, Microsoft had to lose. That was very much not the reality, and in fact the reality was and still is that Microsoft will not lose. Apple, in fact, had/has great interest in the long term success of Microsoft - they are the largest software company for Apple software, they spend a great deal of money on Apple products, and the competitive nature of two companies not faced with direct competition inspires creativity and hard work that would not otherwise be achieved.
Looking at the linux world, much of the same paradigm holds true. Linux will never take over the desktop market - at least not any time in the next decade. Linux based software has in large part been inspired by things that take place at Microsoft or on Microsoft platforms. I think that Beryl is a much better interface than that which Vista provides, but the drive for a better GUI wouldn't have happened without Microsoft and Apple first popularizing GUI platforms in the first place.
Looking at the search engine world - there are three major players - Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft. Microsoft's presence is good for the internet as a whole. While Google enjoys a near-monopoly at the moment, they certainly won't hold that title forever. While they are at the top, Yahoo and Microsoft make them better. They keep working hard to maintain their revenue stream and when they do start to make mistakes the factual competition will be there ready to take over.
Competition inspires innovation and hard work. Microsoft is competitive in just about everything these days. They may not be market leaders, but they certainly are competitors. Microsoft hasn't done a lot of creating new markets anytime recently, but they do great work at expanding existing markets well beyond what smaller companies would be able to do, or what other large companies would consider to be too risky. Take the xbox for instance - Microsoft's entrance into the industry expanded the user base as a whole and inspired better products from Sony and Nintendo. Microsoft certainly took their share, but Sony, Nintendo, and an untold amount of other companies made a lot of money based in large part on Microsoft's presence in the market place.
Yes, Microsoft has unethically attacked Linux and open source software in general. Yes, Microsoft is guilty of anti-competitive practices that are unimaginable. Yes, Microsoft has some terrible products that have way too much market share.
But without them - we'd all be poor, working retail, and playing around on hobby computers with less than a megabyte of memory.
I've spent enough time hating them. It feels good to let it go.