August 29, 2007

History Isn’t Always The Best Teacher

There’s an old adage that those who don’t know history are bound to repeat it. A couple of recent experiences lead me to adopt the more topical Richard Clarke view of “the future will not be like the past”. Let’s start with a relatively simple world – automobiles. Everyone loves a new car, the roar of the new engine, the new car smell and the envy of your friends. Once upon a time I worked for a company called Wang Laboratories – and no, that’s not an acronym. Fresh for a stint at Chrysler Corporation I was the lead marketing guy for the auto dealer vertical which at the time was 40% of Wang’s domestic revenue and grew 300% in my three year tenure. We sold programmable calculators (some of which are now on display at the Computer Museum in Mountain View, CA) to car dealers to help them sell cars and include things like financing, insurance, undercoating, etc. Our independent software vendor (ISV) partners would add localized software to do calculations for the local city and state. The result was a display of numbers that could break costs down to pennies a day and print out every single form needed at the point of sale. Every time something new came along – whether air conditioning as an option, new and improved chemical coating, extended warranty - the dealers figured out a way to sell it along with the car.

Loyal readers will remember my blog on the satellite radio for the car. Having taken a 2,000 mile (3,200 KM) road trip I’ve become quite accustomed to satellite radio. Last night HRH the QM and I went shopping for a new Lexus. Imagine my amazement to find that they don’t have Sirius or XM nor is it available! I was totally shocked, even HRH’s 2007 Chrysler came with satellite radio. Notwithstanding the salesman trying to convince me that satellite radio was not worthwhile, my feeling is that Toyota couldn’t cut a satisfactory deal. What’s the morale of the story? Economics trumps technology or lack of customer demand can put technology purchases on the back burner.

Another historical blip in my opinion is Vista. We all remember the painful migration from DOS to Windows this and Windows that ultimately culminating in Windows XP. By and large XP works just fine. The hullabaloo and hype over Vista towards the end of 2006 and the rather ho hum launch in 2007 ushered in the Vista era. Knowing the ‘issues’ that we dealt with in other migrations when it came time for me to get a new laptop an HRH to upgrade her desktop we drank the Kool Aide and went for the Vista machine hoping to be ahead of the power curve for once.

Imagine my surprise at the number of software vendors who still don’t have their Vista acts together (such as Symantec for example) and the sizeable number of other software vendors who simply don’t care. Combine that with a dearth of support people who are knowledgeable in the new OS and you have history not repeating itself at all.

I guess this all means that the technology future will not be like the technology past. Consumers, employees and IT users of all stripes have to learn to take the good and leave the bad. While I’m not a prospect for an iPhone, I may very well be a prospect for a Mac for my next computer – we’ll see. In the meanwhile to my US readers – a Happy and Safe Labor Day.

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