Any company that focuses on Microsoft-only platforms may gain access to the vast majority of Internet users but in doing so, they also secure Microsoft hegemony.
I’m always stunned when companies who compete with Microsoft support only their platforms, only their protocols. How many companies develop only for MS operating systems, only for IE, only for Outlook? The logic is often practical: the primary target group uses MS and it costs too much to develop on multiple platforms. This should make practical economic sense, right? Wrong.
Companies keep competing on a product-by-product basis, forgetting that they need to be competing on a paradigm level. And forgetting that they need to be competing collectively, not individually. By creating a product that only works on Microsoft, you solidify Microsoft more than you compete with them. You may be competing on a product level, but in the long run, you’ve done Microsoft more good than harm and you’ve just made your competition more difficult. You’ve given people another reason to stay on Microsoft. Why? How can this possibly be good business logic?
The majority of the world _is_ using Microsoft-only. Think about everything that is pre-installed: browsers, calendar, IM, text editor, music player, … It takes a lot of effort to switch any one of those applications. And yet, when IE stopped development, people started to do so. Started. It can happen, but it’s a huge uphill battle. Anyone who has taken the scary jump to switch to Firefox or OSX should be rewarded by being loved and cherished by all in competition with Microsoft, not punished.
People always ask how Microsoft survives when their products are not nearly as good as their competitors. Most people argue monopoly, but while that plays a role, i’d argue that it’s mostly because the competitors are securing Microsoft’s position as leader, reinforcing their power within the tech industry, and giving them the ability to dictate the standards. They do so actively whenever they only support Microsoft, whenever they make it harder for users to switch.
At FOO, i was stunned to see quite a few PCs – i’m used to a Mac-only influencer crowd (although Macs still dominated). When i mocked the PC owners, i received a consistent chorus – i used to use Macs only but then i started working for XYZ big company and they don’t support Macs – i need to use Outlook, i need to use IE, VPN doesn’t work on Macs, … What killed me was the number of people who work for Yahoo and Google who said this. ::smacking forehead:: You have to be kidding me!
This week, Google launched two Windows-only properties to compete with Microsoft. Not only are they ignoring a key early adopter/influencer crowd, but they’re helping discourage mainstream users from trying non-Microsoft products. Why? And why not work together with other companies who are competing with Microsoft?
I still believe that supporting influencers is necessary, but i’m now convinced that you also need to support anyone who has taken the initiative to switch away from your competition. Furthermore, you don’t have the right to espouse open standards if you continue to only build on top of only one closed one. You need to give people choice beyond just the application at hand. Openness isn’t simply about open protocols concerning one application, but about open choice to mix and match layers through and through.
Please, if you’re building an application that is browser/OS/platform-specific, please please please think about this. Think about how your limited development focus secures hegemony of other layers that will continue to haunt your layer.
Note: this post is heavily influenced by a discussion with Ryan Shaw