Lispian Random meanderings on whatever catches my fancy

Built-in Term Limits

Over at the New York Times there’s a great article on built-in term limits for high-tech companies. But what it really is is a restatement of the Innovator’s Dilemma. It focuses on Microsoft and their dilemma of how to be #1 in the Internet Era.

My belief is that Microsoft could own a new era, but it requires such a radical departure from what they are that they can’t. A private company probably could, but not a public one. They have to protect what they have, so they come up with half-hearted attempts. What we keep seeing emerge from Microsoft is just that, half-hearted attempts that keep things tied to the existing crown jewels. For MS to compete with Google effectively — or any Internet-based firm — they have to compete against themselves. And to do that means a loss of profits, which will drive down the stock, which will drive away some employees. To say nothing of what shareholders will do once that starts happening.

But there is a way out: the solution is not focusing on the current era — The Internet Era — but focusing on the next one. That type of strategy will work, but it requires a lot of research and understanding what the problems are. Web 3.0, if you will, is anyone’s game. And Microsoft is well positioned to own that era, but not if they fixate on Web 1.0 and Web 2.0 crap.

The ultimate problems are simple:

  • accessibility of information wherever
  • data portability
  • applications as data
  • universality of information

It’s the information that’s the future, and no one has a hook into that future yet. And yet, a huge quantity of information has been and is being created using Microsoft software. That gives Microsoft a huge leg up on everyone else. That is if Microsoft would focus more on the information being created and less on new features and eye-candy. In fact, my biggest disappointment with Microsoft of late has been WinFS — or more accurately, the lack of WinFS. Such a great idea, but it’s dead. They had the right idea, but tied it to NTFS. They overburdened something that should have been new and wonderful and it died. The innovator’s dilemma.

Unfortunately, public companies focus on the here and now regardless of what any smart folks in their firms may state. If that wasn’t the case the computer I’d be using would say Xerox and not Apple.

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May 2008
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