Virtue of Surprise? Two years ago, Andy Grove, Intel’s chairman, dismissed Europe in a notorious speech delivered to the European elite at the annual World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Yet look at the way the Linux operating system snuck up on Unix and Windows, the dominant programs in technical and commercial computing. Created by a Finnish hacker, Linus Torvalds, Linux invaded the rest of the world without the backing of any big U.S. companies or even any conventional marketing (see “Programs to the People,” TR January/February 1999). Just as the Japanese once benefited from being dismissed, Europeans do now.
Euro Cash. The advent of the Euro, a single currency for 11 European nations, symbolizes the cohesiveness of a region rivalling North America in size and wealth. Significant national differences remain, especially in taxation and support for higher education and research. But in business technology, English is the lingua franca and one set of standards reigns from Madrid to Warsaw.Gadget Passion. Europe’s quarter-century of hostility toward new technologies is ending. As in America, technology is now perceived as a measure of individuality and a lever of personal empowerment. For Europe’s smaller nations, the marriage of the Internet and wireless communications levels the playing field with the big boys. At the margins of Europe, the passion for technology is extraordinary. The Finns have a higher rate of Internet usage than the United States.
To be sure, innovators still raise hackles in Europe. And while Europe’s engineering talent is surprisingly deep and its universities are starting to overcome centuries of hostility toward commercial activities, European companies still hardly rely on the Indian and Chinese diasporas, whose members make seminal contributions to U.S. high-tech companies. Finally, the top U.S. companies are adept at absorbing and coopting European talent. Still, the lords of U.S. high-tech are watching Europe. Today all technological leads are temporary. Paranoia defines high-tech innovators. Right now, Europe inspires paranoia. It should.