Memento Mori

Reading the story that endangered species will be recorded in an online records 'ark' , I immediately thought that this might have some connection with the IT industry rather than the planet’s disappearing wildlife.

The connection, of course lies with Hewlett-Packard, creating digital profiles of those species that haven’t yet been eaten, shot or turned into fur coats or traditional medicine and I rather wondered if the time was right to create an equivalent archive for the IT industry?

After all, twenty years ago, the software industry in particular, enjoyed a remarkably diverse ecology, with products such as Lotus-1-2-3, SuperCalc, WordPerfect and many more pieces of software, now buried in the reviews that I once wrote for PC User Magazine. Of course, this all happened before the Internet, which means that thousand upon thousands of pages of industry history, comment and analysis are lost to the future, because many of the magazines of the time and the companies behind them no longer exist, except for a few sad mementos in my attic.

Much the same argument applies to the software companies and their CEOs. Whatever happened to the powerful industry figures of the eighties with names like Ray Noorda and Jim Manzi? The answer we know is that the success of Microsoft and the relentless march of consolidation squeezed 80% of the software industry out of existence in the space of two decades. As each year passes, choice becomes even more limited, until, in the hardware industry at least, we are down to a handful of key players, IBM, Hewlett Packard, Sun Microsystems, Dell and then possibly Intel, Cisco and EMC.

Which companies are next I wonder and should someone start an online museum of software code? The problem with this idea is of course copyright, even if the authors and companies have gone out of existence. A couple of years ago, I finally tracked down a software writer whose application my own company was still selling to the Police, five years after his company disappeared, because his royalties were building-up. The author in question had given-up IT and was living in a commune in California.

In the end, I suspect, our choices will mirror the famous quote from Henry Ford. “You can have any colour you like, as long as it’s black” or perhaps even blue. With the end of truly imaginative competition in this industry there’s a risk that we will witness a decline in innovation as the highly conservative survivors concentrate more on consolidating their hold on a particular niche rather than risk attempting to expand their interests into the domain of the big gorilla next door.


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