Is There Any Hope For Small Developers?

from the pity dept

I guess today (along with the article right before this one) is “pity the poor tech geeks” day. Here’s a column from someone suggesting that it’s getting harder and harder for small independent software developers to change the world with an application, because the Microsofts, Oracles, and SAPs will drown them out. I think that’s silly. It just means that the smaller developers need to be more creative and more innovative than before – and that’s a challenge that I think plenty of them are up to. Any time you start believing that the big companies are invincible, is when you start missing out on all the exciting stuff going on at the small companies. I’m getting sick of folks complaining that “tech is dead” and that there’s nothing cool going on any more. It just distracts from the folks who actually are out there, creating cool new technologies and proving the naysayers wrong.

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Comments on “Is There Any Hope For Small Developers?”

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sb says:

No Subject Given

just a bunch of whiners looking for a scapegoat. if anything, the big boys will buy them out for $400 million. Talk about incentive. Get a real idea, thats the problem, well, not even, just build a better mousetrap or take a govt job, clearly they;re not entrupreneur material.

My pleasure for my, as always , invigorating, succint commentary.

Ed says:

I disagree

I disagree with some points of both the original article and Mike’s editorial. To address Mike’s comment first, to say that people just need to be “more creative” is like saying they need to “work harder.” The entrepreneuers of a few years or decades ago were people who were being as creative and innovative as they possibly could; there’s no reason to expect any more of people today.

In the original article, Borland’s Turbo Pascal is given as an example of what couldn’t happen today, but the PC market today is completely different. When Turbo Pascal was introduced, the PC market was an extremely tiny niche compared to today: what was a huge success in those times wouldn’t even be noticeable today. Sure, you can’t get retail shelf space today, but you couldn’t 20 years ago, either, because retail software sales didn’t exist.

I think that it’s possible today to have a similar magnitude of success today, in absolute numbers. The only difference is that relative to the whole market, today’s small companies actually look small.

Consider starting a car company today. Obviously you won’t be competing with General Motors, but maybe you’ll be able to produce a few hundred specialized cars per year (with a nice high markup on each). Go back to the turn of the 20th century when there were hundreds of car companies, and a few hundred cars per year would have been considered a very successful company.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: I disagree

That’s a good point. So, I should clarify my meaning. Due to the limitations on space in a typical post, I didn’t want to get into details – but you’re right for calling me on saying “be creative”.

However, I stick by it (with a few more details). By “be more creative” I mean about everything, including business model. So, in your example, you talk about starting a company that “looks small”. That’s a creative way of looking at things in an industry that today still only things of who “the next Microsoft” will be.

Along those lines, I think that a small company that is “creative” and willing to look beyond current market boundaries can redefine markets in a way that they can completely surprise some of the big companies of today. The trick is not to define it so narrowly as “the semiconductor industry” or “the software industry” and look for ways around that to come up with something new and completely different that will take the established companies by surprise.

It’s all about disruptive technologies… and I don’t think we’ve exhausted our supply of those yet.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: I disagree

Software is a maturing industry in some ways, but not in others. Traditionally as an industry matures, innovation decreases and consolidation starts. In software, although innovation is still occurring, consolidation has already happened.

I agree with Mike that now an innovative technology isn’t enough; you also need a “microsoft-proof” business model. For developers, the key realization is that any sufficiently attractive application will be
copied by microsoft, and MS can closely tie its version into the operating system and the major applications. The companies that have prospered have products that aren’t dependent on the user os or applications, and don’t greatly benefit from being tied into them: BEA, eBay, Peoplesoft.
Those that haven’t: netscape, frontpage, palm, go, AIM, etc.

The real open playing field is the back end, the business application space, because there’s more fragmentation, with different companies depending on different applications. But then you run into SAP and Oracle.

Case in point: Web Services. Cool new feature, but how can a small company compete with the big guys?

There’s much more ground floor room in other, newer industries like nanotech, stem cells, etc. But there isn’t the same business-changing potential. Consider stem cells: great medicine, but they don’t give *_NEARLY_* the same kick to our GNP that the PC did, or the spreadsheet. No secondary and tertiary effects, no transformations of business as we know it. So, like it or not, the economic driver of the economy is still the software industry.

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