Clash Of The U.S. Tech Billionaires

They can’t help it, they’re just following their instincts and their logic. But they are probably driving each other nuts.

Ever more of technology’s richest and most successful leaders are moving into businesses that put them in direct conflict with other Masters of the Domain. The stakes are commensurately higher, and tell us a lot about where the industry is going.

Computer networking hardware company Cisco and relational database software company Oracle, for example, were about as far apart as you could be in tech. Billionaires John Morgridge of Cisco and Oracle’s Larry Ellison might have seen each other with indifference, or perhaps regard. But in these “cloud computing” days of accessing software remotely over Internet-hooked data centers, Cisco and Oracle are becoming direct competitors. Boom. Morgridge and Ellison’s companies play on each other’s fortunes.

In Pictures: Clash Of The Tech Billionaires

Corporate egocentricity dictates that Cisco says the cloud is all about networking switches, while Oracle sells a vision based on databases. Hewlett Packard says this world depends on servers; Microsoft sees it in operating systems and applications software, and IBM views it through a lens of domain-specific functions only it can effectively design. Whichever stand you take–and that stand seems to depend on where you sit to begin with–you are minimizing the other guy as never before.

It is not just billionaires battling in that part of the cloud, however. Less obvious clashes are happening. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos has created an amazing e-commerce business. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has created an impressive business selling virtual goods via Facebook credits. Soon enough, Zuckerberg will try to sell other things with credits, including media and books, the cornerstone of Amazon’s business.

Then there is Steve Jobs, in and against Hollywood. The big money in entertainment has always been in the distribution, not the content. Apple’s iTunes store already turned over the music business and changes how movies and television shows reach the public. Print publishing could be next. Got that, Messrs. Redstone and Murdoch? Thought so.

Blame, or thank, the Internet and Moore’s law for all this turf-encroaching. As more computers hook together at higher speeds, and the semiconductors in each gain density at an increasingly lower cost, the more complex software you can write, and it starts to do more. Do enough, and what you’re doing looks like what the other tech guy does, too.

There is a strong chance that the battling billionaires love this. Remember, “driving each other nuts” is another term for “competing,” and tech billionaires are some of the most competitive people on the planet. Just as there is no pearl without the sand, there’s no triumph without some initial adversity. And once you’ve mastered your domain, where will that come from? Someone else’s. –  forbes