The Pattern

Introduction

In the technology world innovation is the first step to creating new technology, but that's only the start. When technology becomes mature it is a different beast, and it can be hard to pin down when it is mature. There is however a pattern that is being followed by technology during its growing up phase.

Phase 1: Innovation

The first step in any new technology is when it is created. This step is when it is innovative and people start jumping on the bandwagon. For my example I will use the personal computer. When personal computers were first created they were cool and new. A good idea. At this stage people are reluctant and the uptake is slow.

Phase 2: Competition

The competition phase is when the technology becomes more viable and more companies or entities start develop their own spin off. Now people are buying pc's from vendor x,y,z etc. This is a bad growth stage because each entity makes a unique product and most of the products have unique form factors, unique systems that make them possible etcetera. They don't work together nicely across the different types or spin-offs.The idea in this stage is to establish a market leader. Whoever makes the best product wins(in a perfect world). In the real world it is the product that has the best marketing and the best shady tactics for kicking competition in the balls.

Phase 3: Chaos

At this stage many different systems are running but are unable to talk with each other or work together. Frustration grows and people want systems that are the same, but different. In the context of a PC you could compare it to having a system running dos, and another running Unix. You cant run Unix applications n DOS, and you can't run DOS applications in Unix. At this stage standardisation can take place next, ad should, but often it doesn't.

Phase 4: A winner emerges

In the case of operating systems for PCs Windows won the battle and most people started using windows. Suddenly everyone could communicate and there was a de facto standard. Competition is crushed and everyone seems pretty happy.

Phase 5: More competition

At this stage alternatives to the mainstream are developed and they make effort to interoperate with the de facto standard. Suddenly choice is there, but it is hard to make the choice because it has to play nicely with the de facto standard. Wine and Samba are some examples of Linux trying to play nice with Windows.Wine fights the good fight but suffers tremendously. In this phase the competitors try to topple the de-facto standard in order to move to the next phase.

Phase 6: Standardisation

Because the de facto standard tries to make the rules the alternatives gain enough ground to make rules of their own. They make an effort to work together to make their own standards. The leader of the pack(Like Windows) now has to either choose to play along or to try and make their won standard win(OOXML vs ODF). This transformation is slow, but the real standard will usually win because people realise the value of the open standard eventually and want to make it easy to switch between alternatives based on their needs and not some scary vendor lock in.

Phase 7: Commoditisation

At this stage it doesn't matter which alternative you use anymore, because they all play nicely together and conform to open standards. This is what is happening with browsers now. These days you can (almost)choose between browsers for what they offer and not what they support because they all support the same technology. This is when a technology is really mature and real competition flourishes.

Rinse and repeat

In open source the 5th phase falls away and is rather followed by standardisation and commoditisation. In both open and closed development the cycles starts from the beginning again with innovation. The cycle is quicker when open technology is involved because there is no need to keep a standard if it is obsolete. When I was dreaming up these phases I did realise that it doesn't always happen exactly like this, although the model seems quite solid to me. The browser wars make it work and also the operating system wars. Linux is and Mac are gaining traction and other operating systems are also popping up seemingly out of nowehere. This phase is long and painful and the winner is still undecided. Some application vendors are already making multi-platform applications because they want to cater to the chaos.
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