The sorry state of affairs in software industry

The last few months have seen a flurry of activity around Intellectual Property. In the software world IP appears to have become sword to cut your opponent down to size and if that is not easy at least bleed him or injure him/her enough to slow him/her down ensuring that you are ahead of the pack.

The latest salvo in this protectionist racket happens to Apple’s pursuit to protect itself from losing multi-touch feature to its competitors currently Palm. I agree with the author, the patents system is in a big mess. You know something is wrong when big boys use it to strong-arm smaller companies and thus get rid of competition. If the patent war was not enough, we have Steve Jobs calling Google’s “Don’t be Evil” motto is b***s***. Apple and Google, great friends some months ago with an unwritten non-compet have parted ways acrimoniously.

It is always interesting to get an outsider’s perspective on software industry events. There was an interesting observation in Louis Gerstner Jr’s book “Who says elephants cant’s dance?”. Although he turned around IBM, Louis was essentially an outsider to the software industry. He made the following remarks/observations about the industry in his book published way back in Nov 2002.

IT industry is unique…… It is a truly extraordinary cast: Larry Ellison of Oracle, Scott McNealy of Sun, Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer of Microsoft and Steve Jobs of Apple… They are among the most outspoken leaders I have ever met. They make outrageous remarks, they attack one another publicly with great relish and they have no qualms about designating the other guy’s products, promises and pronouncements. It is a 24/7/365 three-ring circus.

The second thing I find remarkable about this industry is the nature of competitive battles. They are truly ferocious struggles where the objective is not simply to increase market share by a few points but also to annihilate your competitors. It’s a strategic imperative that is unique, in my opinion, to computer industry.

Being a software developer from India, I am happy to see that the Indian IT leaders have not stooped to the levels Steve Jobs, Steve Ballmer have. Although they have not exactly been patting each other’s backs either. I think the measure of a true leader is how he/she engages his/her competition.

The introduction of Tata Nano caused a mild tremor in the Indian auto as well as the world auto industry. If the competition was Steve Jobs or Steve Ballmer and co. I am sure they would have wasted no time in calling the Nano a car of inferior quality or not suitable for the Indian consumer or environmentally unfriendly etc. Here’s what one of the Tata competitors had to say

“A few weeks ago, an Indian car company made a game-changing move. Maybe the Nano will ultimately not retail for a hundred thousand rupees. Maybe it won’t have great margins, or replace as many motorcycles as it would like to, but it was a game changing move; it fired a shot that was heard around the world.”

Anand Mahindra made that remark as a part of his speech at the NASSCOM leadership summit on 13th Feb 2008. It takes a very big heart to acknowledge the fact that there is a brilliant idea and the idea generator is not you but someone else.

I wish the present set of IT leaders could take a leaf out of Anand Mahindra’s book. Maybe that’s why some consider the industry as “immature”.

2 thoughts on “The sorry state of affairs in software industry

  1. I agree with the stance that the Software industry is a very new and possibly naive market (It’s a sub-section of the computer industry and only really took off in 80s – even then it was still tied very much to hardware) and perhaps that’s why there is this very competitive edge: like the industry itself its leaders just aren’t mature. However personally I believe its a lot to do with the rate of advance in technology. In no other market are you able to release a product (after spending possibly millions in development) only to be technologically trumped two months later. The ‘bad-mouthing’ arises out of a need to protect large investments from being out-shone by competitors; in an industry that changes so rapidly companies don’t have the advantage of using the ‘time-will-tell’ method to prove to consumers/customers the quality of their product over their rival’s product.

    1. Mike,

      I believe that as an industry leader you set the standard via demonstration of principles and values. Stiff competition is no justification for bad-mouthing, sledging or for using money power to keep opposition at bay. Industry leaders are essentially role models or at least viewed as role models. If this behavior is acceptable and these are our role models then we are in a spot of bother here.

      One can always say that my product is good and not slander the opposition’s product(s). Let the market decide. I doubt people reject a Nexus One because Steve Jobs says so.

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