Posted on November 14, 2006 by

How the Zune will (eventually) kill the iPod

Microsoft released the Zune Player this week. This is simply the latest in the conquests for the MS Technology Life Cycle. Will the success rate halt with the Zune, or should Apple be worried?Most developers are familiar with the Software Development Life Cycle, but Microsoft seems to have modified this process to run their entire business. I refer to this as the MS Technology Life Cycle. It has been used successfully in product after product, and has shaped the technology industry. It has produced some staggering results.

The real beauty of this process is that many parts of this pattern do not even require any activity by Microsoft. They can sit back and let others do the hard work and come in after the fact to sweep up the profits. Here is the basic pattern:

  1. Really smart people come up with a new innovative idea that can change the way people work. They get together with some of their friends and develop the product, and release it to the world. (NCSA Mosaic)
  2. The business world sees this product, and provides funding to nurture and grow the technology bringing it to the masses (Netscape)
  3. Microsoft, being ever so observant, hops on the bandwagon, typically 2-4 years late. They are far behind, but they put their team of developers on it and release a substandard alternative. (Internet Explorer) It creates a little bit of interest, but is quickly dismissed as a wannabe and forgotten about.
  4. Microsoft then releases its version 2 (or 3 or 4 if they skip some numbers). It fills in the gaps from the 1.0 and gains widespread acceptance. (IE4) In this stage, the product still does not need to be a finished product. Marketing can fill in any remaining gaps.
  5. The people that invented the technology and the company that grew it are forgotten, and either change industries or go out of business (Netscape)
  6. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

Whether the Zune is destined for greatness or will be a flop depends on how well this pattern holds up. How has this worked for Microsoft in the Past?

Innovators Incubators MS Product Result
NCSA Mosaic Netscape Internet Explorer Netscape destroyed
VisiCalc Lotus 1-2-3 Excel Whats a Lotus?
Atari PlayStation2 Xbox360 Time will tell
CGI, Perl Java C# Isn’t Java a coffee?
Xerox GUI Macintosh Windows 95% Market Share
OS2 OS/2 Warp Windows NT/Server OS2
Sendmail GroupWise Exchange Business market cornered
Diamond Rio iPod Zune Wait for the next version

Everyone points to the massive marketshare enjoyed by the iPod, but when you look at the equally impressive marketshares of Netscape, Lotus 1-2-3 and the others, back in the day, you quickly realize that that doesn’t matter. iPods only last a couple of years before they need to be replaced anyway.

Sure, there are examples of failed attempts. (MSN vs Google, Microsoft BOB, etc.) Some of you are going to trumpet the virtues of Firefox, PS3, Wii, Python, and a host of others, but you can’t argue that this behaviour has been chronic and – generally speaking – quite successful.

Now, lets be honest, the Zune is not an iPod killer (at least not in this v1.0 state), but anytime Microsoft enters a market, the incumbent should be worried. I am not rushing out today to buy a Zune, but wait until version 2!

What are people saying about the Zune right now?