Part 26. The Fixit Man
The Maytag Repairman is a classic example of a guy who has nothing but time on his
hands. He is a noble example of time-honored craftsmanship leading to durability
and reliability of products. But there is one problem with this situation: there's
no money in it.
The computer business has a big problem with long-term cash flow. This is because
software does not inherently wear out like mechanical devices do; also, there is
an almost unlimited supply of it. After all, the basic components of the media
upon which software is supplied are either iron oxide for diskettes (rust!), or
silicon for CD-ROMs (sand!). The product itself -- information -- has no inherent
limits to duplication, particularly in a digital format. So how can anybody make
money on something that has an unlimited supply and an unlimited lifespan? Two
ways: unnecessary change, and service.
While Microsoft and many other software companies have chosen the route of unnecessary
change (dressed up in fancy terms like "innovation" and "technological
progress"), the truth is that such wasteful practices also make the inherent
business process unstable and unpredictable in modern companies, randomizing what
should have become more predictable and more stable with computers. IBM has chosen
to take the other choice, becoming a computer services company that uses mainframes,
PCs, and other systems as entry points to its real cash-cow product set of software,
networking, and management services. This means that to a computer trade press
and a news media who are caught up in the whirlwind of supposed progress that is
merely a change of fashion, IBM and other companies that offer real value seem slow
and cumbersome. OS/2's APIs have change relatively little over the past six years,
yet Microsoft seems intent on producing a constant, frustrating treadmill of changes.
In the long run, which of these approaches is likely to produce a reliable business
infrastructure? Both of them produce plenty of income, but which one also happens
to benefit the buyer of the products? Clearly, IBM's approach will produce a class
of corporations whose information systems will outlive their designers -- making
IBM seem like a Maytag Repairman. But not to worry; there will be plenty of Microsoft-designed
information systems to replace, refurbish, or otherwise fix for the next ten or
twenty years. It turns out you can make money as a repairman -- you just have to
become the Fixit Man who cleans up after the other guy's failures.
Most recent revision: July 27, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.