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Monday, January 3, 2011

Fail To Succeed

When I was in elementary school we had a lesson on sound. The teacher told us how sound travels through air, water and solids, and how it travels so much faster through a solid like steel than it does through air. Then she asks the class what is the best material for conducting sound, and the class answered in chorus: air! which dumbfounded me, because by all the criteria we had just discussed, a solid like steel was the best conductor of sound. But I politely kept my trap shut.

A few years ago my wife picked up a scrub brush for dishes at Office Depot. It was great. It worked well and it lasted a long time, but eventually it did wear out. Unfortunately by then Office Depot no longer carried them. Eventually we found another brush at another store. It was not nearly as good or as long lasting as the first one, and none of the others we have had since have measured up either.

When the Ural motorcycle was first imported from Russia, it quickly acquired a reputation of being unreliable and requiring constant repair. This did not seem to phase the owners who developed a tight knit community that thrived on talking about the problems they were having with their bikes and helping each other out with necessary repairs.

When Microsoft first developed Windows, they eschewed using a task manager (the traditional method of handling multiple tasks) in favor of something called cooperative multitasking. I like to think they did this because they are lazy undisciplined louts who couldn't be bothered to learn the fundamentals of computer operations that had been in development for twenty years.

Whatever the reason, the effect was that every Windows program took twice as much effort to develop because all those things that would normally be taken care of by an operating system had to be taken care of by each individual program. So it's really no wonder that Windows and Windows application programs were riddled with bugs and crashed every time you turned around. What is amazing is that the stuff worked at all.

So I am wondering if there isn't some of the Ural motorcycle phenomena at work here. A whole bunch of people saddled with a piece of junk, making common cause with a whole bunch of other people dealing with the same kind of problems. In other words, Windows succeeded because it required ten times as many people to write a program for it, and because all these people spent all this time learning how to write programs for Windows, there was this huge pool of talent available to write more programs for Windows.


3 comments:

Rocky Humbert said...

Pergie: This may be the first blog post that incorporates (1) air & sound (2) motocycles (3) dirty dishes and (4) microsoft windows.

All I case is "doppler effect".

ta-da

Chuck Pergiel said...

?

CA Bob said...

Yes, why do sub-optimal solutions often win out, even when advanced contemporaneously with a better solution? Like VHS over Betamax video machines. Or crappy dish brushes over quality dish brushes. In the commercial world it's simple: market dominance, which has more to do with money, marketing, and deal-making, than with product worthiness.

Similar phenomenon is common in politics, where often completely horrible and unsuitable people get elected to office.

Nevertheless, once launched, it's very common for a kludgy, crappy product to develop a committed fan base. MG's and other English cars come to mind.