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.