Upgrade forcing

I got a threatening letter from my Voice over IP vendor the other day. It’s unusual to get a threatening letter from a vendor. He would like me to upgrade some software that I’m running; and apparently he felt the right tone to adopt was do this or we are cutting you off.

That behavior isn’t entirely unusual. For example a few vendors that I have relationships with force me to lie to them about what web browser I’m using. They aren’t willing to bear the QA cost of checking that their sites work with the browsers I use. Unlike my VOIP vendor some of those vendors would be very hard to switch away from.

My VOIP vendor doesn’t like something about the way that Asterisk is interacting with their servers. So it appears they hired somebody in that community to write a patch. They are emailing this patch, attached to their threat, to all their asterisk using customers. It appears that they didn’t wait for this patch to be accepted into the Asterisk source code repository. That’s amazingly stupid since it means they are forcing their installed base to fork from the main branch and thus helping to assure that their installed base won’t keep moving forward as asterisk improves.

I insist that only metric of a standard that counts if “transactions/second via the standard;” but one proxy for that is how large the installed base is folks that have adopted the standard. How far down the long tail the standard has actually spread is really important; so I may need to adjust my position. An installed base (or standard) that captures a huge portion of the long tail is good and bad. It’s very hard to upgrade, but it’s also very stable and durable.

This note from my VOIP vendor is kind of “upgrade or die;” or possibly it’s “switch or conform.” I know plenty of people who wouldn’t mind making some similar threats to large portions of the long tail of installed client software: operating systems, web browsers, mail servers. This is a interesting problem.

These little VOIP vendors are an unnatural. On the one hand attempting to displace “TPC” (aka The Phone Company”) which is probably the ultimate in durable, immovable, stable, standard, utility like operations. But they are really classic startups: rapid build out, turn on a dime, inconsistency is our tactical advantage.

It’s very hard to be both, but sending your early adopters threatening letters is kind of a bit too far over on the highly adaptable startup end of the spectrum.

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