Nice Guy (Premium)

What a difference two decades makes. Microsoft, once the belligerent brat of antitrust, is now fronting a kinder, gentler face to the world. And it is trying on a new role with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) lowering the boom because of the software giant’s attempt to acquire Activision Blizzard: “Nice guy.”

I’ve been around long enough that this phrase still makes me laugh out loud. But let’s acknowledge that the Microsoft of today bears no resemblance at all to the anticompetitive monster that rightfully landed itself in serious antitrust trouble in the U.S. and the EU over 20 years ago. It’s like comparing the Germany or Japan of today to the warmongering nations that launched World War II in the mid-20th century. They’re the same in name only.

Much of the credit for this transformation will be given to Satya Nadella, Microsoft’s CEO since 2014. But the Microsoft of today was actually set in motion by his predecessor, Steve Ballmer. And come on, it’s not like workplace toxicity didn’t continue unabated under Nadella. As in all things, there is a nuanced middle ground to be found here. And with regard to Microsoft’s transformation, we can’t credit, let alone congratulate, one person for this change.

What we can do is marvel at the differences.

In 1997, we were treated to the sight of Bill Gates, then the richest and most powerful man on earth, squirming in his chair for hour after hour during a series of depositions, disingenuously claiming that he couldn’t remember any details about the key decisions he made to undercut the competition and illegally expand his Windows monopoly. But here in 2022, we have Brad Smith, Microsoft’s top legal mind, telling the U.S. government it once violently opposed to “give peace a chance.”

Brad Smith, incidentally, is another example of how Steve Ballmer guided Microsoft’s transformation. Ballmer hired Smith in 2001 specifically to get Microsoft out of its antitrust troubles, and Smith won over the senior leadership team and Microsoft’s board of directors by explaining that it was time for the software giant to soften its approach and make peace with regulators at home and abroad. He was hired, and he did just that, and he’s led Microsoft’s legal efforts ever since.

Smith, featured recently in The New York Times, has approached antitrust regulators questioning Microsoft’s Activision Blizzard acquisition quite a bit differently than his predecessors did 20 years ago. And his strategy is simple: where the Microsoft of the past was previously a put-upon bully, the Microsoft of today is Big Tech’s “nice guy.”

Smith has plied this strategy with each regulatory body that announced investigations of the acquisition, pledging to work with Sony, its chief competitor in videogames, a company that today employs the same exclusionary tactics that Sony says Microsoft will use in the future. It has made the very public case that it has litera...

Gain unlimited access to Premium articles.

With technology shaping our everyday lives, how could we not dig deeper?

Thurrott Premium delivers an honest and thorough perspective about the technologies we use and rely on everyday. Discover deeper content as a Premium member.

Tagged with

Share post

Please check our Community Guidelines before commenting

Windows Intelligence In Your Inbox

Sign up for our new free newsletter to get three time-saving tips each Friday

"*" indicates required fields

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Thurrott © 2024 Thurrott LLC