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
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.