David vs. Goliathsoft

As a competitor, I don’t need to be sold the OS, I need to be sold the market strategies that will overcome the entrenched titan.

This means don’t respond to me with lofty theories and vague action plans filled with wordsmithing. I already know I have to be able to offer something cheaper, stronger, quicker, and without a system shock changeover. No shit, Sherlock. Tell me how I can do any of this better than Microsoft without referring to more dictionary terms or vague statements. Best of all, and really the only pertinent thing: Show me who has done it before given similar, analogous circumstances.

I’ve been wanting to respond to this comment since it was posted; but every time I try, the post mushrooms into business and marketing rhetoric, and I know Raveness has a strong intolerance for bullshit. Sadly this attempt ended up in the same way, but screw it, I’m posting it this time. Like it or lump it.

Short answer – if you’re gonna take on the leader of any business, you have to do the opposite of what they’re doing. Do what Nintendo did with the Wii, and laugh as Sony and MS blatantly struggle to catch up. Otherwise you’re a follower, and by definition, followers do not lead. Whoops, it’s already begun…

Okay what the hell, here’s the loooong answer:

Find a future

Look at the trends with technology and the internet. Everything is done on the internet these days and not locally — webmail (Gmail), pictures (flickr), music and video streaming (lastfm, youtube, etc), gaming, and more. Everyone has a website, or a myspace profile, or a facebook page, or a blog — a lot of people have all of those and more. What I’m getting at here is that if you’re going to take on Microsoft, you have to be prepared to take a leap and do something no one else is willing to do.

My idea is simple but a little scary — integrate the operating system with the Internet. So instead of using firefox, or chrome, the entire OS is the browser. I don’t mean like that crappy active desktop feature in windows, I mean 100% full integration.

Now, I’m not a hardware expert, so you’ll have to humour me on the technical side of things. I’m not interested in whether it’s possible now, with current technology and architectures. That’s the wrong approach. I’m interested in whether it’s conceptually possible in the future – ten, twenty, even thirty years on from now, and what steps would we have to take to make it happen. Even if it means building a new computer to support it.

So to flesh it out a bit. Instead of a main hardrive, all of your data is stored on separate severs (like how gmail works) [it would be necessary to have a small disk drive for the basic OS to work with, but the core idea is that 90% of data is streamed from and stored online]. For example, instead of opening a ‘My Pictures’ folder, you open a window which plugs directly into your flickr account. Instead of a music or video directory, you would just be plugged automatically into last fm, itunes, youtube, amazon, or whatever else you fancy. Likewise, software would be run server side — you’d have a licence for photoshop, and it runs via the net, like SumoPaint. Same goes for games (the technology is nearly there). Lastly, instead of web pages, you’d just have windows (that can be tabbed, scrolled, etc, like you’d expect). ‘Bookmarks’ would be accessed from icons on the desktop, and from the equivalent of the windows’ start menu.

One of the main advantages of this setup is that your operating system and files would be independent from the physical computer you’re using. So whether you’re using a desktop, laptop, palm, or mobile phone (I said this was in the future, right?), you’d have direct access to the same content. Facebook is along these lines — you have a home page, and you can ‘install’ applications into it (like poker, for example). You can then run them on any computer that gives you access to facebook. That’s similar to what I’m getting at, but on a much grander scale.

Now, I realise that the technology is no where near ready to take this kind of strain. But we’re already seeing steps towards this future, and who knows maybe 10-20 years we’ll see something like this happen. There’s also the whole Big Brother thing which is a serious concern, but that’s another argument for another day.

Make the competition obsolete

Whether you like the above idea or not, my main point is that to take on Microsoft, you have to do something radical and a bit crazy. Above all, you have to do something different. I can’t stress that enough. If your gut reaction was “Ick, I don’t like the sound of that, where will I hide my porn…” then I say GOOD. If everyone, especially Microsoft, are saying “That’s insane, it’ll never work” you’re probably onto a good thing. Because you can’t beat them point-for-point on stability and features alone — it doesn’t work that way. Most people expect quality and reliability as standard.

Lou Gerstner of IBM once said about Microsoft:

“Our biggest competitor in software is not a very good technical company. But it’s one of the best marketing companies I’ve seen, and I’ve spent twenty years in marketing.”

Everyone knows that Linux and Mac are more stable, and have a better design & features than Windows. I know this because every time I speak to a Mac or Linux user, they insist on telling me about it. Everyone still uses Windows regardless. Why? Because Microsoft introduced the concept of windows to the world — not the OS — I mean the idea of having resizeable boxes that can display and store content in them.   Even now,  right now, you are reading this text inside of a window!  The genius of this is that we take them for granted. It’s ingrained in us. Even on Mac and Linux, we still call them Windows. Children are taught at school how to use Windows. No matter what you think about marketing, this is powerful psychology at work here.

So to beat Microsoft at their own game, you have to do two things, simply put. The first thing is that you have to envision a future that embraces technological, cultural, and business trends, and presents it in a way that fundamentally rejects the entire concept of windows.

Windows..? ” your marking slogans should run, “Are a two-dimensional concept from the 1980s.   We invite you to step outside of Windows, into the sunshine, and embrace the future.  We believe that future is…” whatever.

A world without Windows? Are you nuts!?” The clue is in the username, but let me elaborate. This is exactly what Microsoft did to the precursor of Windows — DOS. DOS was a command-line OS, which Windows made obsolete by introducing a graphical interface and the concept of windows, icons, menus, and scroll bars. It also introduced a new input device — the mouse. What Windows did to DOS, we have to do to Windows. Now, I realise that I’m not offering a concrete answer here (if I had the answer I wouldn’t be writing this, I’d be out making my fortune), but lets look at the Nintendo Wii as an example.

A success story – The Nintendo Wii

After the Snes era, Nintendo got trounced by backstabbers Sony and their new Playstation generation. Nintendo’s audience had grown up, and wanted something a little more adult — like Metal Gear Solid, Lara Croft, Tekken, Resident Evil, and Grand Theft Auto. Unfortunately, Nintendo were divided on this and weren’t able to adapt quickly enough to the market. Before they knew it, their old time rival Sega had been replaced by none other than Microsoft. Nintendo limp-in with the Gamecube and get eaten alive. Game over for Nintendo? No – the situation is now reversed. Ignoring Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony became so preoccupied with out-doing each other on the hardcore market, that they never saw the monster curve ball coming around the corner…. “A console that isn’t graphically superior to its peers? That uses a remote control as its primary input? Are they nuts!?”

And the result? As of December 2008, the Wii has almost sold more units worldwide than the Xbox360 and PS3 combined. Moreover, unlike it’s competitors, the Wii doesn’t lose money on its hardware production costs (that would normally be recouped in software sales). Nintendo realised that the future wasn’t with the hardcore demographic, but the rest of the world. Being the Disney of the games industry, it was no problem for them to cater to this market, which is what they’re also doing with the DS (you can laugh at those cooking book ‘games’, but they’re selling like hotcakes). In other words, Nintendo rejected two fundamental norms about the games industry — that the primary audience are males, 15-30, who like games about sex and violence; and that graphics and raw processing power are the driving force of the industry (as opposed to creative and innovative use of technology; which is fundamentally what videogames are all about).

Save the cheerleader Destroy the brand, save the world

To beat Microsoft, like Nintendo did, you have to reject the norms they’ve ingrained into everyone. You have to make the notion of windows conceptually obsolete so that Microsoft can’t just integrate your new ideas into their own OS model (e.g. tabbed browsing, desktop widgets, etc). So not only would they be forced to redesign their operating system from the ground up, but they would also have to consider renaming it as well, because the word ‘Windows’ itself becomes obsolete. Basically what I’m saying is that to beat Microsoft, you can’t just beat the product, you have to destroy the Windows brand as well.

Of course that’s easier said than done. The problem is that windows is such a damn good idea that it’s hard to imagine anything else (my own OS idea above, clearly uses it as a frame of reference).   It’s like trying to imagine a car without wheels.  Maybe a 3D OS with portals instead of windows? A few attempts have been made, but we need a revolution, not a gimmick. That’s why, as a stopgap, I’m moving for the internet integration as the primary hook, rather than the interface itself. But again, let me repeat: to beat Microsoft, you need to kill the windows brand. Portals, Doors, and TV channels are all effectively the same as windows (if it looks like a duck…) so they’re hardly the knockout punch we’re looking for.

Finally

Assuming you do figure out your brilliant, revolutionary concept, you’ve got to deliver it — when they least expect it and when it’ll do the most damage. Given that Vista is faltering, to the extent where it’s starting to parallel the epic disaster of New Coke (Hilariously, Microsoft are even doing blind taste-tests, called the mojave experiment ); and Microsoft are distracted in the games industry; NOW would have been a really good time to launch a brand new, arse kicking, all singing, all dancing, Operating System from a fresh, hip, and unknown software company (I was going to say ‘think of microsoft in the 80s…’ but they weren’t). For now, lets call it OS Awsome.

Microsoft maintain this “Anything you can do, we can do better” attitude which can be clearly seen in the thinking behind Silverlight (Flash) and XBL avatars (Miis). So the second thing you have to do to beat Microsoft, is you have to bring your vision of the future to the mass-market before anyone else does. You have to be “Firstest with the mostest”. Otherwise forget it. After Neil and Buzz, do you know the names of the other men who walked on the moon? (without looking it up). History remembers leaders, not followers. Also, if you’re the leader, you have an edge, because you’re the one making the moves, while everyone else reacts.

Apple iPod is the textbook example these days. There are plenty of rival MP3 players out there (I myself use a creative zen stone – quality audio on a budget ), but Apple are the most successful because they were the first to bring their iPod brand to the mass-market. Not only that, but they followed through with iTunes, making mp3s popular and kick-starting the whole legal mp3 download trends (getting backing from the major record labels in the process). They lead the market because they saw a growing trend (rising popularity of mp3s) and they went in for the kill with the marketing equivalent of guns, tanks, and missiles. Firstest with the mostest. It’s a horrible violation of the English language, but there’s no better way of putting it.

And that’s exactly what you have to do — be different and be first. If the competition is going left, go right. If the competition going right, go forwards, or inside out, or daffodil, or meringue. Yes, Microsoft are a large and powerful corporation. No question. But they’re getting to that complacent stage where they’ve got loads of money and don’t know what to do with it — expanding into new markets that have nothing to do with pc software or operating systems. This will make them vulnerable — like IBM in the late 80s, and GM today. So if you want to take a Goliath like Microsoft down with a single stone, wait until he turns his back, or trips up, or starts to juggle too many balls — and then aim for his nuts and throw as hard as you can!

And that’s it. Easy huh? Think I’ll start working on OS AWESOME tonight…

Oh and I don’t think it’s going to be Google that does it (although for many Google = The Internet, so who better to launch an internet based operating system like I suggested).

Incidentally, I’d like to just neuter this entire post by saying I’ve got nothing against Microsoft, Windows, or Games, or the people that work there. They’re a great company and they make good software. I’ve met some of the guys at MGS, and they’re cool guys – very engaging and open minded.  So for me, this is merely an interesting thought exercise…. /trademarks OS AWESOME

Glad I got that off my chest.


show spoiler

Sidenote

(For those that bothered to actually read all this)

It’s also worth noting that iPod wasn’t the first portable MP3 player on the market. The MPMan was. The lesson here is that you don’t win a race by being the first to cross the finish line. Races are won by being seen to cross the finish line first. Christopher Columbus wasn’t the first to discover America, but he’s the one we all remember. Likewise, when Google release the worlds first Internet driven OS, do you think I’ll get any credit? No.

Why hasn’t Apple repeated their success with iPod? Lets see… iMac, iPod, iTunes, iPhone… What’s next? iDunno? iWalk? iTalk? iLaugh? iLove? iThink therefore iAm? iPod was a success because it came at the right time, captured the imagination of a generation, and it took off. Not because Apple are wizards at marketing.

Apple Macs aren’t sufficiently unique compared to PCs and Windows. Sure iMacs look chic, but under the bonnet, there’s no real surprises. Nothing revolutionary. And certainly nothing that could dent the windows brand (like I said earlier, we still call those boxes windows).  If they can’t be the leaders, then they need to be ‘the alternative’, not ‘second best’.

I honestly don’t rate the iPhone either, but that’s another story.
Oh and Macs only have one mouse button – so annoying.

Further reading

Most of the marketing side of this is based on Ries & Ries ideas; so credit where credit is due:

http://www.ries.com/

http://ries.typepad.com/ries_blog/

http://www.youtube.com/user/riesreport

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One thought on “David vs. Goliathsoft

  1. Pingback: Google Chrome – the first Web-based OS? « Jon Hallier

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