I’ve watched technology develop for more than 30 years as a consumer, user, teacher/trainer, and also as a technology industry consultant and business owner. As a consequence I’ve evaluated and bought a lot of technology, taught people of all ages how to use it, and assisted other businesses and non-profits with integrating it into their operations.
The price tag for this technology is seldom discussed in reviews, blogs, and articles. There’s a good reason. In the US economy, we follow the golden rule. Whoever has the gold, rules. Be it Western Electric/ATT – seemingly centuries ago – with the legal phone monopoly – to IBM then Microsoft now Apple and others. These companies have all followed the same principal of American public companies, provide good products, sound marketing and a reasonable return on investment to their stakeholders.
As commercial purchasers We do consider the return on investment (ROI) of technology as well. While this metric provides one measure of the value (to the company or individual) of the purchase, it is seldom compared to any standard – as if one might exist. Instead in business it helps the CFO gauge the relative importance of one expenditure over another when given a mandate to control financial resources. For many individuals – at least in an open society – it seems more to satisfy the need to possess or use gadgets that those around us are buying and using, regardless of any “larger” purpose or constraint. It is as if the technologies have evolutionary (or revolutionary) lives of their own.
So what’s wrong? Three issues in my view.
The first has to do with control of intellectual capital, the basic ideas that spawn technology. Is it better to be employed and let your employer leverage your ideas and profit from them without compensating you? Or do you go it alone, developing your ideas while trying to raise the necessary capital required to bring them to market?
The second related issue is that the cost of developing a new technology can be expensive. In the case of open source software, the actual out of pocket costs differ from those of a capitalized proprietary project. Sweat equity often supplants cash infusion as a means of accelerating development without the need for as much up-front cash. Understand, I’m not making a value comparison between open source and proprietary systems from an investment standpoint. Both serve their markets fairly. The difference comes in the actual price tag to the consumer and in the ultimate availability, equitable access to, and popularity of the technology.
And third, yes, Virginia, there is a relationship between marketing/advertising and success and a there’s a larger total product cost to prove it for every successful brand. The best technology may often be underutilized or unsuccessful because its development and dissemination lacks the marketing investment – more often cash than sweat equity – of the proprietary brands.
No wonder that everything from Apple is so popular. As a proprietary company they already possess their own intellectual capital AND cash to develop and market leading technology products. Companies like Oracle are playing in both worlds as they seek to leverage and (integrate) the quality value proposition of Open Source technologies like Red Hat Linux, MySQL, and Open Office with their own propriety products. The recent Zimbra VMWare alliance is another example of this same strategy.
It will be very interesting to follow the future successes of these product development and marketing efforts for technology, including the continuing availability of free and inexpensive solutions that build a following first and then capture a for-pay market.