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My Favority Industry Quotes

In a recent briefing, someone suggested to an executive of one of Microsoft’s rivals that he might want to partner with Microsoft. He looked a bit nonplussed at the suggestion. And that, in turn, triggered memories of wonderful quotes that I have heard over the years, about Microsoft and others.

Here is a very brief list of some of my favorite quotes. My standards are high: the speaker should show pithiness, wit, and insight, not just bile and the gift of gab. And the quote should stand the test of time: it should, fairly or unfairly, relate to the enduring brand or reputation of the companies on which the speaker commented.

1.       I remember reading this one in a trade publication in the early 1990s. The president of Ashton-Tate, faced with declining sales of A-T’s product in the face of competition from Microsoft’s Excel and Access, set out on a joint project with Microsoft. Later, he was asked to comment. “The only thing worse than competing with Microsoft,” he said, “Is working with them.” Time has long since hewn some of the sharp edges off Microsoft’s ability to work with other companies. Still, around the industry, long-time competitors and others with long memories are wary of Microsoft, both as a competitor and as a partner. From old-timers, I still get a laugh with that one.

2.       Also in the early 1990s, Apple (Little Red), IBM (Big Blue], and a third partner set out to do an emulation of Unix that was clearly aimed at Sun. The response of Scott McNeally was blunt: “This consortium, “ he asserted, “Is Purple Apple Sauce.” And so it proved to be. This one has shown itself to be less a comment about the Apple and IBM of the future, and more about the inability of joint projects between vendors to live up to their hype.

3.       In 1990, I was in the crowd when Ken Olsen of Digital Equipment – pretty much number 2 in the computer industry at that time – was asked about UNIX. He sighed, “Why are people trying to make it into an enterprise engine? It’s such a nice toy operating system.” Within five years, that toy operating system had effectively destroyed DEC.  I pick on Ken unfairly, because he had had a pretty good track record up to that point. However, I continue to be wary of companies that disparage new technologies. It’s nice to keep a company focused; but when you speak beyond your technical competence, as Ken did, it’s sometimes a recipe for disaster.

4.       This one dates from the later 1990s. Some magazine had done an interview with Larry Ellison, where he indulged in some of his trademark zingers about competitors. When it came to Computer Associates, however, which at the time was making money by buying legacy software, laying off all possible personnel, and maintaining the software as is, Larry was clearly straining to say something nice. “Well,” he noted, “Every ecosystem needs a scavenger.” He may have meant it as a put-down; but I thought it was, and is, an important point. Yes, every computer ecosystem should have a scavenger; because, let’s face it, most computer technologies never go away. I am sure there are still a few Altairs and drums out there, not to mention hydraulic computing. And I am sure that CA really appreciated the remark – not.

Well, that’s it for now. I have left out a few lesser ones I have enjoyed, such as the time John Sculley got up to speak and my Apple-executive table partner braced himself. What’s the matter, I asked. Well, he said, the last time John spoke at a venue like this, he promised that Apple would be delivering the Newton – and then we had to go build it.

Anyone else remember some good ones?



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