We’re the losers in the winner-takes-all strategy game…

I was just reading an article about the new Windows 10 operating system. What the reviewer was saying is that it looks like a great system, until you try to either remove something that you do not want to use, or make it work with another system that Microsoft doesn’t own.

While at this stage most people would start to bang on about how evil Microsoft is – I know better… I know that they are all evil! Every single software company that I try to deal with.

The problem with life is that a single software (or hardware) provider is simply not going to design the best-of-breed system for everything you need to run your small (or large) business. So the idea is that you pick and choose, and end up with a combination of hardware and software that ticks most of your boxes. Hey, isn’t this how the wonderful ‘connected world’ works!

But the thing is – nobody in the computer industry wants you to do that. Everyone is playing a winner-takes-all game – at your cost.

So my gmail account works terribly with my Outlook client on my iMac computer, my MS Word documents cannot be edited from my gmail account, my gdocs cannot be opened from my desktop (only through my gmail account through a browser), my CRM system will not talk to my cloud-based accounting software, I can’t use flash on an iPad, I can’t use Java on Microsoft’s new Edge, and the Sky Drive will not integrate with my iMac… Get the picture?

If this was because of some irreconcilable hardware incompatibility, then I could accept it. But it isn’t. It is based on a ‘strategic incompatibility’.

Microsoft, Google and Apple are trying to own you, and keep you from being ‘part-owned’ by the other guys, and they have been playing this game for years.

Does Apple really think they are going to kill off Microsoft Word with its crappy Pages? Does Microsoft really think they are going to kill the iPhone with whatever they call their pathetic mobile phone? Does Google really think they are going to kill off the iMac desktop with their complex and ugly hardware? Come on guys! You are all really good at some things, and terrible at others. Show us some respect – let us decide.

The strategy departments of these companies are really (really) familiar with what they call the ‘network effect’ – and the ‘winner takes all’ outcomes that it can produce. Microsoft made an artform out of this in the heyday of the Windows desktop and Office. Apple has done a fantastic job of milking this cow with the iPod and then the iPhone – these devices, and their simple operating system, actually breathed life back into the iMac desktop business. Google is now trying to take gmail and search, and move to complete world dominance with self-driving cars!

In Australia we call this strategy ‘third-line forcing’, i.e. only supplying something to a consumer on the condition that they also take everything else you are trying to sell. There are some cute little provisions in the Competition and Consumer Act that basically make this practice illegal – and for good reason. It is a pain in the butt for the consumer.

But no one in the regulation business, let alone the IT industry, seems to get this. So I end up hating all of our IT friends equally…

Will this all end? I am an optimist, I think so. I don’t think it will be too long before a new breed of inter-operable systems (through robust open operating systems and APIs) gradually creates a ‘parallel’ universe to the Microsoft/Apple/Google incompatitibility world. We can already see how these big guys are trying to shut that gate.

Until then I will continue to string together my systems as best I can, and put up with all the sharp edges and gaps that it creates.


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