Saturday, February 20, 2010

being the rope in a tug of war

There's a lot to be learned from Jeremy Allaire's recent piece in TechCrunch. Beyond the struggle over platforms that is its ostensible subject, he provides insight into the nature of competition in the fast-moving corner of the economy which includes Apple, Google, Adobe, and Microsoft.

What's a person to do, faced with a market that's largely driven by sweeping plays for leverage and dominance.

One reasonable response is to go with the least proprietary solutions available - Linux, FireFox, and Ogg Vorbis - but very few actually carry this approach to its conclusion, instead opting to run FireFox on Windows or Mac OS X, and not bother with the rest, "bother" being the word to focus on here. The end user ends up supplying the glue that holds such a system together, more often than not.

Another reasonable response is to stay as mainstream as possible, which, aside from special circumstances like the music and publishing industries, has meant generic hardware running Microsoft everything for most of the last two decades. This approach also has its downside.

Yet another approach is to go with the best overall solution, taking into account not only the utility of specific components but how seamlessly they work together, or don't. Many people following this approach end up being Apple loyalists, because, while they may not always succeed, Apple at least aspires to provide the best available integration of hardware and various software elements, and they keep getting better at it. Their stuff isn't generally the cheapest, but far more often it's the best available value.

No matter which of these you choose, you'll still be vulnerable to being tossed about by decisions made by the big corporate players, as they jockey for position, market share, and profits. The big new thing from a few years ago becomes tomorrow's no longer supported, worn out old thing. Old hardware will no longer work for the lack of drivers compatible with the new system. You'll find yourself having to duplicate investments in a manner that might remind you of taxation, being taxed to support an industry in constant turmoil.

That's the nature of the beast. The upside is that the general trend is toward getting more for your money. The machine that tasked your patience is replaced by one that feels almost instant, by comparison, at least until security patches slow it down too. Or, if it's not noticeably faster, then it's easier to use, with more attention having been lavished on every detail. Progress happens despite the ulterior motives that sometimes drive it.

So keep your eyes open, and don't be afraid to switch approaches if it's to your benefit to do so. Watching out for your own self interest is your responsibility, after all, not theirs.

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