Sure, Microsoft Corporation is an 800 pound gorilla in the software business that many love to hate. But I want to travel back in time here and point out something that is often overlooked, and definitely worth considering in your business.
I have written previously that I was late into the computing era. When I first turned to the field, Novell Netware was the king of the hill in network technologies for SME businesses. However, as I wrote in that same post, Netware had a weakness that I knew would eventually kill that dominance.
Being an IT Administrator at the time, I started to look carefully at what product I thought would be the next in line to take that networking crown away from Novell. Back in the early 1990′s, the choices were the ‘big company’ products such as Digital Equipment Corporations’ VAX minicomputers, and the various UNIX flavours including Sun Solaris.
In the small business space, there were two companies trying to make a name for themselves in our business technology networks – one was Microsoft, with the now familiar Windows, the second was IBM
with the OS/2 operating system. At that time, OS/2 version 2.1 was getting stronger, and IBM marketing was touting that version 3 would be even better.
There is a second thing you should know; in the SMB IT field, as an individual, traditionally you have been on your own when learning new skills. Companies generally are loath to provide new skills training, and help wanted advertisements were full of job postings wanting 3 years experience with a 1 year old new technology.
This meant that my research and learning would be costing me money from my own pocket.
So, both Microsoft Windows, and IBM OS/2 were pushing for market share in SME networks, I had to ask myself; Do I focus my skills development on just one of these products? If so, which one? Or perhaps I should cover all bets and take a deep dive into both of them?
As a pretty typical IT staffer, I purchased copies of both products, installed them and started the typical half play / half work of testing how they worked. The next step was to start looking for the more advanced learning materials. And that search changed things in a big way for me.
IBM published in depth technical books about its products. These Red Books contained the needed in depth material on the deep inner workings of the operating system, but they were about a month of my wages – per book.
Microsoft also published the same in depth materials, available in what they called Resource Kits, and they were about a hundred dollars, and included a CD that contained digital versions of other Resource Kits. Buy one physical Resource Kit book, get 10 digital ones free. You can guess where I invested my dollars.
The Network Effect
The definition of Network Effect, is that the value of a product or service is dependent on the number of others using it. As the old example states, one fax machine was useless, the more there are, the more you could use them.
Microsoft did not stop this network effect with just my Resource Kit materials either. Technical professionals could subscribe to Technet, Software Developers could subscribe to the the Microsoft Developer Network, and businesses that worked with Microsoft products could subscribe to various marketing and sales channel materials. And the key thing?
Sample Binder of Microsoft Learning Materials (2000)
These subscriptions were low in price, and bought you so much material that you know Microsoft spent more on shipping to get that material to you, than you paid for the subscription price. There were absolute boxes of binders, hundreds of CD’s, case studies, sample software, and other learning materials.
If you worked with Microsoft products in any way, to build this network effect, they pretty much gave you more information on a monthly basis than you could hope to assimilate.
And by doing that, they built a huge ecosystem of tech professionals of all types familiar with, and recommending Microsoft technologies.
The SMB Takeaway
I spent my hard earned money learning more about the deep technical details of Microsoft products, IBM OS/2 went to the dustbin of computing history.
And the lesson?
Look at your product or service. Is there anywhere that an investment in this network effect could mean you become the product or service of choice?
And the nice thing ladies and gentlemen, in our digital Facebook, youtube era, you don’t need the cost of sending 12 boxes of materials annually to do to it.