Of all the most cloying and over-rated virtues, for me self-deprecation is the worst. You know the sort of thing: people ask me what I do for a living and I tell them I write a bit, only when they press me do I confess that I write for most of the national press in the UK other than the tabloids. This is all good fun and most of us do it, particularly the Brits.
Thing is, when it's someone like Microsoft telling us it's not such great shakes it starts to look like a simple attempt to ingratiate. Take Steve Ballmer, who has just told the BBC that he thinks Microsoft is David to Google's Goliath in the search engine market.
Well, yes it is. We all knew that and it's gracious of Mr. Ballmer to concede the point. Google ha never mentioned the fact that it's David in the office suite market, mostly I guess because it doesn't have to.
I think we should look at the assertion a bit more carefully, though. First this idea that Microsoft actually is a David figure. My recollection - and my Bible knowledhe isn't great - is that David went into battle armed not with a multi-billion dollar corporation behind him to do the marketing but with a single sling. Goliath had all the muscle. In this instance it's true that Microsoft is the smaller market player so far but it has a track record of succeeding in markets in whichit appeared to be struggling. When I started as a journalist we used to laugh at the idea it would do anything with its network operating sytstems, but then when I started as a journalist Windows wasn't a standard either. Unlike David and Goliath, one of the players here can afford to take part in the long game.
What's even more apparent, though, is that every time someone uses the David and Goliath cliche SORRY image they're fairly clearly taking it for granted that David will win in every instance. Guys, the reason the story was worth telling in the first place was that it seemed incredible that anyone other than Goliath should walk away from the battlefield. It's by no means certain that history would repeat itself in the software market, even if one accepts the truth of the original story.
What we're left with that's of any substance is that Microsoft seems, bewilderingly, to care whether it triumphs or sucks in the search engine market. Which seems just plain odd to me. Maybe they've found out there's some money they don't already own, or something.
There's a video of the Ballmer interview here on the BBC's website.