Posts Tagged ‘Charles Arthur’
May 22nd, 2012
Charles Arthur, technology editor at The Guardian, has just published Digital Wars, a definitive history of the battle for internet dominance between Microsoft, Apple and Google.
It reads as a battle plan for the next global online war, indicating the strengths and weaknesses of the Big Three companies who dominate the terrain and, through example, hints at how to repeat history, with the essential twists that will propel a new company to success.
Digital Wars offers an uncomfortable narrative at times, as the great men leading these companies are revealed, warts and all. Charles Arthur is an iconoclast by preference, a healthy trait for any independent journalist. Hagiography rarely provides enduring, trusted sources for historians and commentators.
What distinguishes his book from the many volumes written about the Big Three is a passion for detail, checked and referenced facts, laced with anecdotes collected over decades of his professional writing career. There is a forensic quality in his writing that is as impressive as it is much welcomed.
The bookâ€™s scope is also a source of bemused wonderment. I do not know many writers who would move such a project beyond the initial-idea phase because the first imperative is to have detailed knowledge of and a firm historical perspective on each of the Big Three, a thorough grasp of the sectors in which they have grown, and a bullshit detector with the dial turned to 11.
Digital Wars chooses 1998 as the effective starting point for the closely-woven narrative, although it references earlier elements in the story of Microsoft and Apple, and there never is a Year Zero or An End in history. The chosen year is predicated on the arrival of the third of the Big Three, a start-up called Google.
There are so many lessons to be learnt from this book, not least that very, very clever people who team with very bright business people stand a better-than-evens chance of succeeding; and that the success or failure turn on a very few significant choices. And that if you want to build a global internet business, move to the US.
This book has a much to do with ethics and business culture as it has to do with the structural fault-lines and innovations of the internet over the past 14 years. Whether Microsoft is seen as â€œthe Evil Empireâ€ now by many, as it was in 1998, is unsure. But that cultural view clearly hindered its progress in responding to the threats posed by Apple and Google.
In contrast, Apple was a dying company at the end of the last century, but one that attracted passion and trust in equal measure from its customers, because they had internalised the Apple vision â€“ â€œfocus on the userâ€. All it took to revitalise the company was the second coming of Steve Jobs.
A second commandment in how to build a global internet company, identified by Charles Arthur, is â€œDonâ€™t moon the giant.â€ Netscape got that wrong and were crushed. Google didnâ€™t and went into â€œsubmarine modeâ€ for five years. The rest, you know â€“ or will when you read Digital Wars.
History never ends and Charles Arthur continues to map the progress of the Big Three. His recent article on the dangers of growing too big, with reference to Google is well worth a read.