Nathan Myhrvold wrote, while comparing software to video tapes (US DOJ v M$, exhibit 994), “The computer industry as we know it today is full of examples of positive feedback. The value of a computer to its user depends on the quality and variety of the application software available for it. The incentive to create such software for a particular computer depends on the number of users. since they are the potential customers for the application developer. This creates a similar situation to the video store – the best software is attracted to the most popular platform. making it more popular still.
This is not the only source of positive feedback however. If I want to exchange data with you, or get advice from you. then it helps a lot if we are using the same computer and the same software. When a user upgrades to a new version there is a large benefit if existing data files can be used directly, thus favoring whatever software the user had in the past. A user who invests time learning the interface and commands of a piece of software will be loathe to re learn for a new package unless absolutely necessary.
A more familiar way to say this is compatability – the laws of positive feedback govern any system where compatibility with other users is either directly or indirectly a key factor in the utility of a product or service. This value is usually instantiated and made tangible by a separate product whose availability or quality depends on the installed base, such as the rental tapes in the ease of VHS or software in the case of computers.”
He conveniently skipped that instead of superior product M$ used a bunch of exclusive deals to get the snowball rolling. Well, now, things are going the opposite way. New products found their way onto the market despite all M$’s best efforts and now consumers are choosing */Linux and ISVs are writing tons of software for */Linux and retailers and OEMs are having a hard time shipping product that doesn’t work for consumers…
The interesting thing about positive feedback is that it accelerates change. All the lock-in and dependency M$ has built into the whole IT industry is now causing a stampede away from M$’s products and the shift is accelerating rapidly. One factor has changed everything since the rise of Wintel, the size of the installed base of Wintel machines. There is virtually an infinite supply of them so that anyone who needs one can just buy a used one cast off by the previous owner. Meanwhile the new PC, small, cheap, smart computers are selling like hot cakes because they are able to be produced in greater numbers, lower prices and more formats than that other stuff… There are many factors piled up to accelerate this shift.
It could be two or three years before everyone wakes up to realize it was all a dream and they never needed M$ for anything but youth, women, mobile people are liking what they see in Android/Linux. By the time it comes to replace existing desktop/notebook PCs with something else consumers and businesses will have lots of choices besides M$’s stuff: Android/Linux, GNU/Linux, web applications, thin clients, … M$’s share of the shipments could drop to ~25% and they had damned well better be prepared to play well with everyone else with open standards or they will be shunned and disappear from the face of Earth. OEMs have to ship competing products and retailers have to offer them to consumers if they want to survive. Times have changed quickly.