An important driver for success is if you can answer the question who wants you to win? This is especially important when you’re disrupting existing industries and markets. Sometimes it’s the customer like and sometimes it’s your suppliers.
Here are a few examples.
Google Android won because the industry wanted to offer a smartphone which could compete with the iPhone. Most phone manufacturers did not have the in-house talent or organization nor market share to go at it alone. This was the time that Microsoft could step in and offer an alternative. But they had none. For Microsoft, it is too late now and they’ll never be able to get a foothold in the mobile operating system arena. They’ve tried but it is impossible to build an ecosystem like IOS and Android from scratch. The only option they have is to go down from desktops to tablets and keep pushing Windows into smaller form factors. They certainly have a great position on the desktop which they can leverage to get into tablets. It certainly looks like this is the current strategy at Microsoft, but it’s going to take them a decade or more to get back even if they can succeed.
Google is doing the same with Google Chrome where they are moving upwards to the desktop. Chromebooks are a success because of their price point and simplicity. Removing the burden of the Windows tax – both in licensing cost, hardware requirements and software complexity – enables manufacturers to offer better and lower priced laptops compared to those running Windows. OEM laptop manufacturers can reach markets which they barely could reach before.
Of course, it all started with netbooks. Initially many of these netbooks came with some version of Linux. It was a brief rise of for Linux on the desktop but was ultimately replaced with XP because Linux proved to be complex and user unfriendly and Microsoft acted quickly to defend their position by offering the even then aging OS Windows XP for super low licensing fees to netbook OEMs. Netbooks didn’t survive because of the introduction of the tablet and problematic form factor. Chromebooks basically took over that market.
Linux did win on the server market and now runs the majority of servers connected to the internet. Linux won because it came without licensing fees and was in many ways technically superior – less mature but more than secure than Windows back in the day. Servers are typically ordered without operating systems and relied on admins for that. Nowadays we just spin up a server in the cloud and choose our operating system from a drop-down. Admins and technology companies wanted Linux to win because it reduced cost, more secure and better performance. Now the ecosystem around Linux is so mature that Microsoft has a feature called Windows Subsystem for Linux which is a compatibility layer for running Linux binaries on Windows. Microsoft used to warn their customers not deploy Linux because the GPL license under which Linux was distributed could pose significant risks to protecting the intellectual property of the organization. Linux has come a long way, even in Microsofts mindset.
The success of iTunes can be attributed to the fact that the music industry saw their revenue plummet because of the free MP3 sharing services like Napster, Kazaa and Limewire. They had no idea how to offer an alternative online for their offline products. Steve Jobs offered them a great option with iTunes. The industry quickly rallied around the iTunes store not only by offering (part) of their music catalogs on iTunes but also helping in promoting it as a legal alternative for online MP3 sharing. Ultimately we ended up with music subscriptions and a decade before revenues of the music industry increased again in 2016. But the reason Apple could successfully launch the iPod with iTunes was that the music industry wanted Apple to win.
It’s often better to work together than to fight, but to cooperate they need to want you to win.