If your Microsoft the good news, of 1992, was that you had captured an extremely valuable hub: the OS switching yard, the bridge from desktop hardware and desktop applications. That bridge’s toll generates a steady substantial stream of revenue. The bad news is that those damn innovative dudes, armed with all the weapons that Mr. Moore and his friends can dream up, keep inventing ways around your bridge and off the desktop. It gets worse! Your install base doesn’t like innovation. They want stability. They have real lifes.
The troubles of the rich! The monopolist’s problem. What to do? Seek wasy to temper the forces that seeking a way around the monopoly. The monopolist needs to slow things down. Buy time to captures or marginalize those damn innovations. Give is risk adverse users time to swallow this new stuff.
I call this the forced migration of your ecology. In some industries, like the auto industry, the the ecology moves slowly. But in high tech it can move very fast. In fact high tech moves so fast it keeps pulling slower industries into it’s wake. If you don’t drive your installed base to move forward you’ll get left behind. Mr. Moore and his friends are very hard to negotiate with.
In the accelerating world of high tech keeping the installed base on the move gets harder and harder. You can do it with carrots: “creating a bridge to the future.” You flood the installed base with a vision of how wonderful life is on the other side. You can do it with sticks making the old world less and less habitable. Sometimes you just threaten to pull the plug. Sometimes the only way to get the ecology to migrate is to set the forest on fire.
Apple, to take one example, did an amazing job evolving the original Mac OS over first decade. When they finally started to hit a wall it took quite a few tries to get over the hump. These almost killed the company. But Mac OS X shows them survived.
This is the problem, getting to the future, Microsoft is trying to solve with Longhorn. It’s not the first time Microsoft has had to do this. Recalling that it took them 15 years to swallow graphic user interface illustrates two things. They are persistent. Their installed base is nearly very locked-in. They may not be very good at innovating, but they do know how to herd the cattle.
This essay, which I highly recommend, is Joel Spolsky developer screaming bloody murder that they are setting his forest on fire. Actually he is further along than that. Having notice that the threat of fire he’s trying to work thru understanding what the hell is going on.
Good developers are not cattle, they don’t herd, they hunt. Developers have lots of options about where to go next. High risk choices.
I find it fascinating that while displacement is such a fact of life in the modern world how much effort goes into pretending it is exceptional and then blaming individual actors. This stuff is like plate tectonics. The ground is moving. Vendors and societies strive to temper the rate of change for users. Sooner or later they fail. The result seems like an earthquake.
Jon Udell wrote an essay called “Replace and Defend”, noting how Microsoft strategy for Longhorn was (in your great analogy) “setting fire to the forest”. I commented yesterday along the lines in my blog.
The problem with setting fire to the forest this time is that the free software camp is moving, and moving fast, and it is a reasonable shelter for people forced to move because of the fire.
I think Microsoft will survive more by making inroads into different market segments or even inventing new ones than by keeping their current revenue structure.
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