The Evolution Of The Netbook/Cloud Computing, Again, Shows The Difference Between Invention And Innovation

from the and-which-is-more-important dept

Rik alerts us to a recent Wired Magazine article that goes through Larry Ellison's failed attempts at building a cheap computer (the network computer -- or NC) that would mainly be used for internet access. That history is pretty well known. Ellison -- in large part inspired by jealousy of Bill Gates -- declared that the PC was dead, and in its place people would prefer to use a stripped down computer with everything on the internet instead. It got a ton of buzz, and lots of people expressed interest. But the product was a flop. A massive flop. And yet... here we are today, and more and more applications are online only, and the success of cheap netbooks have more than matched some of the original vision of the network computer. As the article explains:
We tend to think of technology as a steady march, a progression of increasingly better mousetraps that succeed based on their merits. But in the end, evolution may provide a better model for how technological battles are won. One mutation does not, by itself, define progress. Instead, it creates another potential path for development, sparking additional changes and improvements until one finally breaks through and establishes a new organism.
That is the process of innovation. And yet, we tend to only celebrate the invention -- the first idea -- rather than all the evolutionary process that it takes to make something successful. Things like patents tend to block that evolutionary process by limiting the pace at which those mutations and developments can occur. They slow down innovation, rather than letting it flow, by putting an arbitrary wall around each new step, rather than letting the evolution proceed uninhibited. We may get the innovation eventually, but at a much slower pace than we might otherwise.

Filed Under: cloud computing, innovation, invention, larry ellison, netbooks
Companies: oracle


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  1. icon
    Robert (profile), 29 Dec 2009 @ 3:05am

    IT Innovation is Evolution, but not of a single product or idea

    The example of the NetBook computer is an interesting one, but this could be applied to most developing technology.
    The capability to build a NetBook style laptop has been around since the NC, or even before. But the environment in which they could be used as an effective business/personal tool did not exist.

    WebApps such as Facebook, the Google suite of products and others helped. But only very recently has Wireless internet access and mobile broadband become widely accessible. However without the Reason To Buy (the WebApps) no-one would need a NetBook, they would need a laptop capable of running all their desktop applications.

    Here's an interesting thought that occurred to me:
    Would WebApps be as popular if they weren't easily accessible and useable from the cheapest of computers, or is that basically their unique selling point. For example, I can't use MS Office easily on my home PC (I run Ubuntu as the OS) but I can access and use a wiki anywhere.

    So by hindering development in any one of several interconnected areas would mean that it would take longer for other areas to develop to the point of producing useable/saleable product.

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