A week ago, I wrote an article about small, independent software vendors (ISVs), and their future role in the software industry. My major questions: Will small ISVs be niche players, or will they have a major effect on the standards and technology we use? And do small ISVs offer any hope--individually or collectively--of challenging software monopolies?
Here are some of the more interesting responses to my article. This is mostly just links and quotes; I don't have any brilliant insights at the bottom.
Responses From Microsoft Employees
Two Microsoft employees--Joshua Allen and Robert Scoble--argued that plenty of opportunities for ISVs still exist on the Windows platform. Both authors are long-time supporters of independent developers.
Joshua Allen: There are plenty of extremely lucrative areas where Microsoft could technically compete, but won't because of self-imposed strategic reasons. IBM had (and still has) these same sort of self-inflicted blind spots, and ISVs know how to play them... And finally, Microsoft's omnipotence is overstated. Even when Microsoft does decide to compete, Microsoft won't be declaring victory with the release of V1.
Ben Langhinrichs responds to Joshua Allen: As an ISV making a pretty successful business working with IBM's "crumbs", I couldn't agree more about the availability of good opportunities under the radar screen of the behemoths. On the other hand, I think we should be realistic that it is the "under the radar screen" that matters... Microsoft is also rich enough to buy the small company out without a second thought if it is seen as strategic at all. This simply means that competing with Microsoft becomes an extremely high stakes venture, where you might get rich, and you might get squashed, at any moment.
- ISV Strategy #1: Focus on non-strategic niche around an existing platform. If you end up threatening the platform vendor, they'll either buy you or squash you. Be careful about creating your own platforms (like Netscape); this makes you uncomfortably strategic.
Robert Scoble responds with great passion: Enter Cold Stone Creamery. This upstart chain has completely changed the rules of what an ice cream store should be...
I'm looking for a killer app for Longhorn. I have no idea what the app will be. I have no idea who the developer will be. But, I do know that I'm looking. My job at Microsoft depends on it... What's my vision? My vision is seeing Eric Kidd coming up with a new concept that makes him freaking rich. I see him coming up with a new concept that proves all of the industry's myths to be incorrect. (Jason Lefkowitz responds.)
- ISV Strategy #2: Go ahead and out-innovate the big players, and hope that vision and technology will overcome money and marketshare.
Actually, It's Not So Bad
Several developers suggested that my view of the situation was excessively bleak:
Alex Hoffman writes: [Eric] needs to change his focus away from technology, platforms and the development community, to real world end-users and their requirements.
- ISV Strategy #3: Forget technology; focus on user requirements and user relationships.
Krzysztof Kowalczyk suggests that things aren't bad at all: The only thing standing between me and the mythical innovative software and gobs of money is my ability to have great ideas and to work hard to bring them to life.
The Challenges Facing ISVs are Part of a Larger Problem
Dan Gillmor writes: Expand this lament to other fields where the forces of centralization are beating back innovation. All have to do with the ascendance of "intellectual property" and the decline of the public good. We are giving too much power to a tiny number of corporations. We will regret it.
Dan may have a good point about centralization: Without the Microsoft monopoly, ISVs would be a lot more important. And without the Microsoft monopoly, there wouldn't be as great a need for open source. I don't see any way to end the Microsoft monopoly, however, short of beating it in the market--the government has clearly given up.