I may be showing my age, but I remember when being called "the next Microsoft" was a compliment.

There was a time when the world's leading software company was the Midas of the tech world. Every release of Windows sent a delicious shiver down the spines of nerds everywhere. Bill Gates was a deity, long before his charitable deeds won him style points with the masses. Clippy, Microsoft Office's animated paperclip helper was the coolest icon around.

Gather 'round, kiddies. Let me tell you a story about when Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) was a growth stock.

The Microsoftization of Apple
In The Wall Street Journal's "The Microsofting of Apple?" columnist Holman Jenkins laments the implications behind Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) closing in on Microsoft's market cap.

Jenkins alleges that Apple is seeing a little more of Microsoft with every new peek at the mirror. He sees Apple's reluctance to support Adobe's (NASDAQ:ADBE) Flash in the same light that many see Microsoft's bullying in the past.

Mr. Softy was able to turn its Internet Explorer browser and Windows Media Player multimedia platform into standards simply by forcibly ramming them down the throat of PC buyers with Microsoft-powered operating systems. Manufacturers loaded new computers with free Microsoft Office trials, shoehorning yet another workhorse over our stubby toes.

Apple is certainly doing a lot of arm-twisting in the sandlot these days. It's a dictator when it comes to App Store approvals. It has shackled its iPhone, iPod touch, and the soon-to-debut iPad to Apple's Safari browser in an even more restrictive way than Microsoft ever could.

Oh, and Apple is also challenging Microsoft as Google's (NASDAQ:GOOG) biggest frenemy.

"Rumors abound that Apple will get into the advertising business, that it will expand its cloud services to compete with Google's," Jenkins observes. "Who is this beginning to sound like?"

The downside of upsides
It's hard to be great these days. Success draws criticism and scorn. No one was complaining of Mac's proprietary operating system when it was a bit player through the 1990s. Countless millions of iPods, MacBooks, and iPhones later, those same brainy sultans of style are now becoming the new dumb jocks.

We root for the underdogs, only to turn on them when they emerge victorious. We cheered on the New Orleans Saints over the weekend. Now watch the venom kick in as the team aims to defend its Super Bowl title. Vampire Weekend's latest CD recently debuted at No. 1. I give Rolling Stone three issues before it brands the band a sellout.

We're all stupid hypocrites, always falling for the counterculture until the contrarians become the norm. We then begin cursing success, halfway through the victory lap. And now, it's Apple's turn to be reviled, and that's probably good news for Microsoft.

Think about the areas where consumers are awarding Microsoft underdog style points. Bing is gaining traction as a search engine, largely because it's a market dominated by Google. Xbox Live is the console-based connected platform of choice for diehard gamers, because Sony (NYSE:SNE) owned the video game market when Microsoft dived in.

One can even argue -- and save this for the next time you need a conversation starter at a dwindling cocktail party -- that Apple's "I'm a Mac" ads actually helped last year's launch of Windows 7. Apple did such a good job of pounding Vista, that its doughy PC became a redemptive antihero by the time Windows 7 hit the market.

I'm no ad exec, but that's how I saw it. It's no coincidence that those ads have all but dried up.

Trading places
If Apple becomes the next Microsoft, it comes with the baggage of global scrutiny and the 180-degree turn of critical acclaim.

You're seeing it now. The App Store's Machiavellian approval process is under fire now that Apple is rivaling Research In Motion (NASDAQ:RIMM) domestically -- and Nokia (NYSE:NOK) globally -- for the smartphone crown.

Record labels and film studios eventually warmed to iTunes as a digital savior, but now they're trying to turn the tables on pricing and bundled content.

We're also no longer as forgiving when Mac products are buggy. It comes with the territory of going from bullied to bully, even if Apple's approach has never changed. That's the key: Apple isn't doing things all that differently than it did 5, 10, 20 years ago. It is our perceptions that change as success sticks to the ribs.

"Pundits have wondered what might become of Apple once its chief aesthete and perfectionist is no longer calling the shots," Jenkins concludes. "An Apple that rolls out increasingly junky devices merely to lock more and more customers into the iTunes-App Store mall is one gloomy possibility."

That will never happen, though. Long before Apple begins cranking out crappy products we'll have turned on the company -- tapping another speedster as "the next Apple" -- and applauding Apple's "junky devices" because it came from an underdog worth cheering on.

We are, after all, stupid, stupid hypocrites.

Is Apple really the new Microsoft? Share your thoughts in the comment box at the bottom of this page.

Microsoft and Nokia are Motley Fool Inside Value recommendations. Google is a Motley Fool Rule Breakers choice. Apple and Adobe Systems are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Motley Fool Options has recommended a diagonal call position on Microsoft. Try any of our Foolish newsletters today, free for 30 days.

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz prefers to reward success instead of ridiculing it. He does not own shares in any of the companies in this story. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.