Linux in Government: Unseating Incumbents
Despite the riotous cheerleading occuring among Democrats in Boston this week and that soon to occur among Republicans in New York, it's the summer doldrums in a still flat technology market. At times like this, you can imagine tumbleweeds rolling by as the saloon doors flap and creek to stillness.
Can we imagine that GNU/Linux adoption patterns are analogous to the adoption model of other systems, biological or even political ones? No matter what kind of system you want to talk about, shoving out the dominant species takes some reckoning.
The public soon will see that the major party conventions in Boston and New York have less to do with love for their respective candidates than they do with dislike for the opponents. As much as each party wants to quiet the anti-opponent rhetoric, it won't work. A vocal and visual minority on each end of the political spectrum dislikes the other end's candidates. The media continuously reminds us of that fact.
Unfortunately for the election, passion doesn't unseat incumbent office-holders. So, each party is attempting to work the adoption model for the challengers. They are looking for acceptance for their candidates. They are discovering their inability to reach into the installed base of incumbents to get their candidates' message accepted. Sociologists and marketing people understand the adoption model: the incumbents do not have enough blemishes to make an alternative candidate attractive enough. Even the political vulnerabilities around Bill Clinton failed to unseat him as an incumbent.
Radical innovators make up about only 3% of the US population. That can't win you an election. The early adopters make up around 10% of the population, and this segment consists of young, conservative business types. They drive opinion leadership in this country. Even media bias doesn't move the opinion leaders enough to take an anti-incumbent stance.
To reach the early and late majority of Americans--those that make up to 70% of the US population--you need the opinion leaders on your side. Opinion leadership comes to the majority through younger, conservative, straight and narrow people in our population with an eye out for innovation. That eye sees innovation strictly as a business advantage. Although the early adopters can tolerate innovators, they don't share the same values. They don't demonstrate in the streets, carry signs, wear slogan tee shirts, seek visibility, nor do they have the same passion as innovators.
So, without a significant enough complaint, the 70% will go for the status quo. The majority of American people hold conservative values. When it comes time to vote, they won't go with unproven operators.
Another segment of adopters exists in the US. Known as laggards, they make up about 16% of the population. You can reach them with an anti-incumbent campaign, especially if you scare them with slogans about security. What's the problem with this segment? They don't vote, and they do not own computers.
So, most marketeers will say you won't unseat the majority of incumbents and you won't unseat Microsoft this year.
In our analogy here, Microsoft is the incumbent. Although Microsoft has plenty of vulnerabilities, it hasn't created enough pain yet to make the Linux desktop the pollsters' choice. But, Microsoft's vulnerabilities have begun to multiply, and those young, conservative opinion leaders are beginning to hear the message. Once that occurs, you can fancy a case for unseating an incumbent.
Innovators exist in every population. Most sociologists put their number at 1-3% of a population. Innovators tend to criticize the status quo, resist norms, have broad social networks and tend to let their feelings be known. Passion also characterizes the innovator. An innovator's visibility tends to make people think the innovator reflects majority opinion.
Today's innovators dislike Microsoft. At a time when the personal computer represented innovation in itself, our young, conservative opinion leaders wanted to break away from IBM mainframe's repressive hold on the enterprise. Microsoft owned the operating system that helped shift the computer model. Writing programs for the text-based Microsoft DOS system attracted an innovative crowd. Although serious technologists preferred the UNIX operating system, the path of adoption did not pass through those doors. Instead, Microsoft teamed up with IBM's PC group and began to replace minicomputers and mainframes. With Microsoft, innovation began to flourish, and a robust market for applications developed around the personal computer.
By the end of the first decade of the personal computer, IBM owned 97% of the PC hardware market. Part of IBM's dominance resulted from using open standards when it came to hardware. Then, in a miscalculated move, IBM changed to a closed architecture called Microchannel. IBM wanted clone manufacturers, such as Tandy, to license IBM's Microchannel design and once again dominate competition.
The market rejected IBM's Microchannel architecture, and a group of computer manufacturers led by Compaq began to grab large market share away from IBM. Within a short period, IBM's 97% share of the PC hardware market shrunk to approximately 4%.
Microsoft escaped the disdain for Microchannel. Instead of breaking bread with IBM, Gates & Co. chose to embrace Compaq, Digital Equipment Corporation, Dell, Gateway, Packard Bell and HP. They also broke Apple Computer's hold on the market by releasing Windows and helping port desktop publishing products from the Mac to the PC.
By the time Intel's 386 processor began shipping, Microsoft Windows had become the dominate graphical-based operating system in the PC market. The election ended and a new leader took over from IBM and Apple. Some called the new administration Wintel; others called it by other names. By 1995, Intel became the corporate standard for hardware and Win32 became the corporate standard for software.
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