ERCIM News No.26 - July 1996


Will Microsoft become the self-proclaimed ruler of the software industry, just as Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself nearly two centuries ago when he tried to shape an integrated Europe?

On the other hand, if the Internet develops into the dominant reference environment then perhaps Netscape is a contender. Where are the European challengers such as the newly created Task Force on multimedia educational software?

These are simple-minded questions but they serve to illustrate that there is cause for concern. Both Microsoft and Netscape are American companies; a European challenger is nowhere in sight. Excellent software in all languages, made in USA, is flooding the market at record-low prices, or is even just given away to increase the market share of the company.

The software industry is revolutionising the way in which we think, act, access information and work together. It is rapidly simplifying and rationalising our culture, reducing pluralism in favour of uniformity. This may cause uneasiness but there is no way back; with a trace of irony it could be argued that this development is advantageous to European integration.

Meanwhile, it should worry us that the talent we have in Europe has not resulted in satisfactory commercial visibility. There is no reason whatsoever for complacency. The American example points the way to what is needed: young people should leave their academic research environments and take the risk of starting their own businesses.

The information society needs full European participation, moderated by a keen sense for undesirable effects of an autonomous development of the new technology. The traditional European sensitivity for pluralism could be turned into an advantage, not only for conquering the European markets but also for a good positioning within the multi-cultural Asian markets. Clever initiatives may well fit into the Framework Programmes!

Jan Borgman

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