Technology

Technology karma

Paul Wallbank /

In business as in life, your bad actions can come back to bite you. In Buddhism it’s called karma – gran used to call it getting your just desserts.

Right now, Microsoft are getting their just desserts as Google blocks Windows Phones from accessing their maps service.

For those of us with long memories, this is a sort of justice as Microsoft did exactly the same thing to other weaker companies when it was the dominant company in the 1990s.

The worst example was the crippling of rival operating system DR-DOS with Microsoft Windows giving fake error messages to give the impression that the competing product wouldn’t work. The lawsuits over that stunt went on for nearly 20 years.

Microsoft’s efforts though paid off, they dispatched rivals like Digital Research, Novell and Netscape through similar campaigns and became entrenched as the world’s biggest, and insanely profitable, software company.

For those of us in business, we had to pay the Microsoft tax regardless of whether we wanted to use their products or not. Often we didn’t have much of a choice because Microsoft Office had become the de facto standard for documents and spreadsheets.

I encountered this first hand after joining another entrepreneur in a venture selling business Linux systems equipped with the Open Office productivity suite.

While the business owners liked the open source proposition, their staff hated it as they were accustomed to clicking the big blue W to open Microsoft Word and they knew where the menus and shortcuts were.

After a few weeks struggling against staff objections, most of our clients gave up their open source experiments and asked us to put Windows and Microsoft Office back on their desktops.

Microsoft’s control of the marketplace was pretty well complete and most users accepted it.

Then cracks began to appear – the first big shift being Mozilla Firefox which users embraced as an alternative to the buggy and malware prone Internet Explorer.

A decade later and things are very different for Microsoft as Apple and then Google started offering viable alternatives to Microsoft’s products. This wasn’t helped by Microsoft missing the tablet and cloud computing markets.

This puts businesses in a position of having to make choices. Ten years ago it was buy Microsoft or put up with a bunch of incompatibilities and whingeing from staff. Today we have to decide which camp we are going to be locked into.

Like Microsoft, all of the new wave of online companies wants to own the marketplace, so increasingly the web giants – Apple, Amazon, Google and Facebook – are doing their best to lock customers into their ecosystem.

We see this with Twitter blocking Instagram, Facebook locking Google search out of much of their sites and Apple’s making it hard for users moving to competing systems.

For businesses, this means we have to be careful about the choices we make and understand exactly the ramifications of being locked into one system or another.

One of the lessons from the last decade is how vendor lock-in is not in your interests.

The other lesson is that karma in the business world is real and painful. So be nice to your competitors.

Paul Wallbank speaks and writes on how industries and societies are changing in this connected, globalised era. When he isn’t explaining technology issues, he helps businesses and community organisations through his business Netsmarts.

eBusiness, Seven Steps to Online Success is Paul’s latest book which looks at how businesses can effectively use web services like social media and cloud computing. It is available at all good bookshops or through the publisher, John Wiley & Sons. Subscribe to the Business Tech Talk RSS.

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Paul Wallbank

Paul Wallbank writes on how IT affects communities, markets and workplaces. He also helps businesses to grow and engage their customers with technology.

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