"These experiences left me with a permanent distaste for fancy equipment and the realization that you don't necessarily need complicated machines to generate scientific revolutions; all you need are some good hunches".
IMHO this is the way Microsoft, Google and so on can and will be beaten. Emerging starups have hunches and don't have the equipment or cash of these large companies, but in reality all of the great ideas in the last few years have been emerging new and disruptive ideas. There are too many following the status quo and so getting eaten by these larger companies rather than disrupting them all together. It would be hard to imagine that You Tube is anything more than evolutionary for example (it was one of a bunch of sites doing the same kind of thing and happened to be the one that took off). Numenta on the other hand is revolutionary. In the future, a YouTube powered by Numenta would be able to discover and relate objects in the video.
Was Google revolutionary? Or did it basically evolve from what AltaVista was? It's a hard call, but in my own head, when i hear a company doing something that flips what i thought i could do on its head, i see that as a revolutionary step - that means not only suggesting that something can be done differently... if means actually executing it and AltaVista was a revolutionary search engine for me (it wasn't the first, but compared to what i had been using before it actually allowed me to do powerful seacrhes) - Google on the other hand was just a more effective search tool.
The first revolutionary web moment (for me) was using Gopher on the university networks some years back. I can't remember that last (before Numenta) ... perhaps Napster and i'd have to say P2P television is really exciting - the fact we can see programs live from Chile on our PC is pretty exciting.
I may and try and compile a list of companies truly thinking differently. Ping me if you have any thoughts on who could be in that list.
Here's a neat idea (i think) - a graph from say 1990 or so that charts the revolutionary companies and the spin off companies that came from there. So Google would feature, but the revolutionary company that start search on the web? Archie, Gopher, Wandex, Aliweb or someone else. It's unfortunate that many of the disrupters disappear but you may argue that the evolution of the technology that results from the disrutption is propertional to the user base - and so as the user base rises, the technolgy in that field evolves a little more and so a new company emerges... WebCrawler -> Lycos -> AltaVista (i used this constantly) ->Google -> Baidu ?