Standards vs. Competition

It’s been a back and forth problem since personal computing started in the late 1970s. Some technical standards make things easier for everybody; but they also dampen competition, creativity, and innovation.

Standardizing operating systems in personal computers made a better market for software developers and software users. When MS-DOS took over in the middle 1980s, and became a standard, suddenly “PC Compatible” meant something. There were more programs, more options, more tools for developers. When Apple brought out the early Macintosh, it also brought out a new standard, and a problem for developers. Do we move to the new operating system?

Nowadays we have the Mac, Windows, and Linux. We have the iPhone, and windows mobile, and Palm, and now Android. We have Firefox, Internet Explorer, Safari, Opera, Chrome … the Wii, PlayStation, etc. Software developers have to choose. Consumers have to choose. There are different mini markets. Guess wrong, and your business is out of luck.

Sometimes I like it. Competition keeps everybody sharp. And then there’s something available for what I don’t have, that isn’t available for what I do have. And all kinds of cables and power chords and plug-ins left over. What do you think: best of all possible worlds? Competition over all? Or standards and compatibility? Seems like it’s one or the other, but never both.

(Image: David Lee/Shutterstock)

3 thoughts on “Standards vs. Competition

  1. Hi Tim,

    Good point. I think it all boils down to compatibility. Each ‘mini market’ as you call it, will have it’s own comp. adv., however to avoid alienating potential clients/customers, compatibility is key. And we see it happening more and more each day. For example, there is Word for Mac, Blackberry desktop manager for mac, iTunes for PC, multi market mobile applications…etc. It has become expected that mass market products/services will need to be compatible across numerous mini markets.

  2. It’s interesting that you bring this up because I’m reading about it on another blog: http://www.kk.org/newrules/blog/. It also fits with Seth Godin’s recent post: http://sethgodin.typepad.com/seths_blog/2010/01/what-every-marketer-needs-to-learn-from-groucho-marx.html.

    The fact is standards change. Sometimes it’s for purely technical reasons, such as the move from IDE to SATA. Other times it’s market-driven, like everyone suddenly using WiFi in their houses and wanting better speed and coverage. I think once enough consumers “get” a technology, they help drive innovation by selecting a standard.

    I’m sure you remember the days of PS/2, SCSI, parallel and serial ports. You probably even remember the older ATA keyboard connectors that were about the size of a nickel and only used for keyboards (that standard came from IBM mainframe terminals).

    Out of this madness came USB, mostly due to consumers voting with their wallets and buying devices that used common connectors in favor of ones that didn’t. Now my cell phone’s charger is just a USB cable with modular adapters for wall and car outlets. I connect external hard drives with USB, and even lamps and a cup warmer for my coffee.

    I agree it’s incredibly frustrating from a consumer perspective trying to navigate this potential minefield. Eventually we reach a plateau where standards fit our needs, then things start changing again. I accept the change as a constant, and I’m glad for the innovation. Some will stick, some will fade away, but ultimately it’s all market driven.

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