World without Microsoft

Imagining a Seattle where Microsoft never existed.

You do have to wonder what Microsoft's current home turf would be like if Microsoft had never been founded. Forget the impact on operating systems or PC applications or Intel's stock price. Consider the impact on real estate. Microsoft owns nearly 50 buildings in the Seattle-Bellevue area, holding about 4,500,000 square feet. That's like taking Seattle's tallest building—the 76-story Columbia Seafirst Center—and cloning it. Twice.

There would be far fewer jobs. A 1996 economic impact study (admittedly commissioned by Microsoft) estimated that every Microsoft job supported 3.4 more jobs in Washington state. Microsoft employed 15,392 people in the Puget Sound region at the end of 1998. That multiplies up to 67,725 Micro-dependent jobs. The same report says job growth at Microsoft—and Microsoft alone—kept King County out of a recession in 1993.

Without Microsoft, it probably would be easier to find an affordable home or apartment in the Bellevue-Redmond area. And the commute across the 520 floating bridge, which leads directly to the Redmond campus, would be easier to endure. After all, when you put 15,392 sport utility vehicles end to end, you have a backup that runs 44 miles—the entire length of Interstate 405 and both the 520 and I-90 floating bridges.

KISS GOODBYE all the Microsoft-spawned tech firms (those, at any rate, that didn't kiss themselves goodbye) like RealNetworks, Infospace.com, Center for Multimedia, ConnectSoft, Headbone Interactive, Marketwave, Medio, MIDIsoft, Onyx Software, Splash Studios, and TechWave. Erase Gates and Allen spin-offs Starwave, Corbis, and Asymetrix. And forget about all the travel by out-of-state firms that have come to worship at the feet of the master. Notes Dwight Davis, Microsoft analyst for Summit Strategies, "You can't really take away from the fact that Microsoft has just had a dramatic impact in spin-off companies that have come out of the company, and other companies that have moved to the vicinity to be closer to Microsoft."

Wave bye-bye to low tech, too: Paul Allen's new Seahawks stadium, his Union Square project, and his Experience Music Project at the Seattle Center, along with the renovation of the Paramount Theater begun by former Microsoft exec Ida Cole.

Plus, Microsoft officials have encouraged me to mention all the millions of dollars that have gone into charity coffers as a result of the Gates Foundation and other donations—without, I presume, having me mention that an awful lot of it seems to have occurred since the federal antitrust case began.

As to what Microsoft thinks of speculation about a world where it never existed? A spokesman declined comment because, as he put it, "I wouldn't be here."

Frank Catalano, an Internet company executive and longtime industry analyst, is the co-author of Marketing Online for Dummies. He can be reached at frank@frankcatalano.com.

 
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