Much of the same could be said for Microsoft today and its impact on the way businesses conduct their daily affairs.

Within an operating system that prevails because of its technical reputation as well as its widespread familiarity, Microsoft bundles and sells an "Office" product that contains a word processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation creator, and a database: today's accepted tools for conducting business.

Microsoft didn't invent all of these concepts, but has very successfully bundled them together because of its reputation and prevalence within the market it serves - a market that, like George Graham's, transcends national boundaries.

"Click on any of the above instruments to begin"

Both Graham and Gates operated within different, unique historical contexts.

Yet perhaps both understood the economic value of what some today call architectural dominance: the establishment and control of an accepted way of doing things, whether that be within an observatory or on the screen of a personal computer.

Graham's system prevailed in observatories for decades.

Yet at the end of the eighteenth century, William Herschel, a wealthy, privately funded amateur outside of the professional astronomical community, would overthrow Graham's system with the first serious application of reflectors to astronomy.

Will the same sort of thing eventually happen to Microsoft?

© 1997 Jonathan Sills, Museum of the History of Science, Oxford University
All Rights Reserved


To probe further:

  • J.A. Bennett, The Divided Circle: A History of Instruments for Astronomy, Navigation, and Surveying. Oxford: Phadion/Christie's Limited, 1987.
  • J.A. Bennett, 'The English Quadrant in Europe: Instruments and the Growth of Consensus in Practical Astronomy', Journal for the History of Astronomy, 23 (1992), 1-14.
  • Robert X. Cringely, Accidental Empires: How the boys of Silicon Valley make their millions, battle foreign competition, and still can't get a date. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1992.