‘It’s deja vu all over again’. Such wisdom is there contained in soccer’s argot, that whilst reading The Times, I realised, spookily, I was experiencing just that.
There is a mighty British technology company that once utterly dominated school ICT having at one time nearly 80% of the market and a complete domination of the now defunct Building Schools for the Future mega-project. This company, legend has it, built its fortune by tweaking a humble PC with a few proprietary ROM mods, reselling identically tweaked MS Windows operating systems bundled with discounted but very lucrative boxed sets of MS Office.
So close was this company to the UK Government and Microsoft during the infamous days of BECTA, ring-fenced ICT funding and the dreaded MOUs that many dubbed it ‘mini-microsoft’.
This company was called Research Machines later to be known cryptically as RM PLC and is the UK’s most ancient and mysteriously successful computer company. It was steered to prominence by two of its original employees Tim Pearson and Rob Sirs.
Then came the recession.
Normally RM gets little press nowadays but here it was in the business pages with nearly five inches of text.
Basically the story is a familiar one. It goes thus: Gravy train derails followed by random thrashing around for new revenue streams, new marketing ideas embraced and old guard becomes the living dead. Only this one has a real twist. It’s not so much ‘Dawn of the Dead’ as ‘Sean of the Dead’ but is never the less entertaining.
To cut a long tale short the new marketing ideas type (Tom Sweeney) got control and publishes a ‘way forward’ document that adds Rob Sirs to the ‘not needed’ list (Tim Pearson left to spend more time with family earlier) but ... this is rapidly followed by a stunning volte-face. Upshot is Tom leaves in short order and Rob is now fully in charge as CEO. What fun they have in the Board Room.
The politics is interesting in itself, I am sure, but not to me. What interests me is Rob Sirs. He knows how RM made its money and the model that achieved it ... he was Mr Microsoft ... he was dead but has come back to life ... can he revive the past ... in the very same way?
Indulge me a while. Forget all of the thrashing around, I think Mini-Microsoft is preparing a come-back.
We all know the MS Domain/P:drive model is a ‘dead man walking’. In its pomp it killed RM’s very successful initial sales of the Linux ASUS notebooks a few years back, but now it’s just a nuisance which is merely tolerated as a ‘ zombie-fact’ until the Cloud replaces it.
This rules out the old model of money-making lock-in, but not necessarily the new.
What if Microsoft had a proprietary operating system named after a medium sized fruit that was not an apple, optimised for a range of hardware that embraced the tablet and touch screen market? Oh it does ... that’s good. If it could subsidise the tablet (like Amazon surely does) there could be a colour e-reader affordable to schools. Oh it could, that’s good too.
If only we had a Cloud equivalent of Office that we could bundle with these devices that could be sold with educational discounts ... oh we do, it’s called 365. Maybe then we could make a range of net-orientated hardware (tablet with wireless keyboard and a desktop with touch screen and a gesture camera) in white plastic with R and M on it?
Of course I am just dreaming, zombies don’t really exist even on Halloween, but I would put money on being right. The new wave of MS domination in education is (maybe) on its way and Mini-Microsoft is lumbering along an unlit alley ready to deliver.
Now that would really be deja-vu. Don’t look back!