Understanding Microsoft

Part 24. The Camel's Nose

There's an old story about an Arab who camped out in his tent one night deep in the heart of the desert. It was a little cold outside, with a little breeze, and his camel began to feel the chill. So the camel stuck his nose through the flap of the tent to keep warm. Feeling sorry for the animal, the Arab decided not to chastise the beast, because he wanted to be a compassionate man. Besides, what harm was there in giving up a tiny portion of his tent, just for a nose?

As the night grew colder, the camel mustered its courage and peeked in with its whole head. The Arab was a little concerned, of course, because the tent was small and the camel is a fairly large creature. But seeing that only the head came in, the Arab went back to sleep. After all, a healthy animal was important if he wanted to get safely to his destination the next day. What harm could come from letting the animal keep his head warm?

Of course, by now you can guess the rest of the story. Once the camel knew he could get his head into the tent, the rest of the animal followed! Soon the Arab was forced out of his tent and had to sleep in the chill air outside. Perhaps he caught a cold, or just suffered from a lack of sleep. In any case, it was the incremental push that started with something seemingly insignificant -- the camel's nose -- that ended with a well-rested camel and a grouchy rider.

The same situation has confronted company after company in the area of computer software. At first, Microsoft seemed only to be interested in providing a user interface. Such a little thing! There was obviously no harm in spending $50 or $100 per user, especially if it might improve productivity. Well, after finding out that the machines ran a lot slower, new computer hardware was required. Meanwhile, Microsoft awakened the dozing information executives with an offer that sounded quite reasonable -- why not add Microsoft Office to the mix? The camel's head was now firmly planted in the tent, but the executives were not worried. They still seemed to be comfortably in control.

Of course, Windows turned out to be quite a large beast and forced a lot of executives out of work, as well as putting a lot of companies out of business -- if not directly, then certainly by making them easy takeover targets for bigger companies who had more money and resources to squander on trying to fix Windows problems. Eventually, Microsoft began to dictate terms: no more concurrent licenses; you must take our Internet browser or you get nothing at all; you must remove all non-Microsoft operating systems to keep the license fees down. The camel was now firmly in the tent and in control, and information managers all over the world began to feel the chill.

Most recent revision: January 17, 1998
Copyright © 1998, Tom Nadeau
All Rights Reserved.

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