Our addictions to monopolies
Last night I read Dan Gillmor's article in Computerworld about how IT tends to like and support monopolies. He is absolutely right. As Dan points out:

“Monocultures in the physical world are widely understood to be risky. We are moving that way, unfortunately, in things like farming — where a single virus could, in theory, wipe out much of the world's corn crop in a single season, leading to untold human suffering. Yet our food supply is based on monocultures because they're more efficient. Today.

And that leads to the other main reason why monopolies, duopolies and oligopolies keep springing up: They're good business, largely because they're more stable — temporarily, at any rate — for buyers as well as sellers.”

The key there is about how a monopoly is good for today, which leaves open the very real possibility of becoming bad for the future. While a one vendor standard environment seems like the most sensible approach, it soon becomes a nightmare if a vendor decides to increase prices or not pay enough attention to its customers. Some might say that once a vendor becomes negligent you start looking for another vendor. That is good in theory, but look at what most corporations are doing in regards to Microsoft's latest licensing policies — nothing. Most companies are simply giving in to Microsoft's increasingly harsh tactics. In the end, companies feel it would be too difficult to switch to other competing products. And, you know what? They're probably right. That's the whole idea and problem with monopolies.

Dan is absolutely correct when he says, “IT can do some of this, but it should employ another tactic, too: Push much harder for open, non-owned standards.” Open standards are the best answer to this IT dilemma. With open standards support, we can keep our monopolies if we choose to, but we would then have real power to change vendors without as much disruption as would occur currently. Of course, vendors who hold a monopoly are not likely to fully embrace open standards. That is where IT comes into the picture, just as Dan so eloquently pointed out.

Side Note: I read Dan's article last night in (gasp) the Computerworld print magazine. The funny thing is that I didn't realize it was one of Dan's articles until I finished reading it and looked for the author.
Posted on 02/26/03 - Category: Technology

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