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Understanding the Motion of Commerce
My Dear Brian,
Though it has been some time since our last lesson, I am pleased to note that you are employing our greatest weapon — the blurring of the distinction between license and ownership — to great effect. I am concerned, however, that you are viewing this as our ultimate objective. While it is true that we would prefer a monolithic computing model that focuses on our products driving the rest of the industry, this is only one of our aims. We have another, larger, grander goal that we are pursuing on a completely different level of the industry, and if successful it will enable us to profit whether we manage to consolidate the industry or not.
In our market — in any market — corporations live and die by what they can and cannot sell to their customers. We are successful because we are good at marketing our product. We are doubly successful because we have successfully obscured what our product is.
Many think, with good reason, that our flagship product is our operating system. Others think our operating system is merely a platform we use in order to sell our office suite. Yet others think our product is the entire line of Nifty Doorways software, from operating system to office suite to mouse driver. These are not unreasonable things to believe, but they are all wrong. All of these products bring us wealth, but were it not for our primary product, our flagship product, not one of these items would sell. Any company that restricts its marketing to the physical world is doomed to fail; the truly successful venture is one that sells ideas above all else.
That is what we do: we sell ideas to consumers, concepts that make our more tangible products more palatable to the market. And one of the most important ideas we sell is the idea of cyclical motion.
Things exist, Brian, only when they are in motion. If a human being were to suddenly cease all motion of every kind, it would inevitably cease to live. Without motion the heart does not pump blood, the blood does not deliver oxygen, the body’s cells starve and die. Motion is the key to existence, and for motion to exist, the body must be fed. As it is with the human body, so it is with human industry — to exist, it cannot rest: it must remain in constant, uninterrupted motion. Whoever can cause, guide and maintain this motion will profit most from it… and this is our goal.
If someone were to create a computer that was fast enough to play every game, compute every algorithm, calculate every spreadsheet, and format every document our industry would stumble. If someone were to create a program that did everything anyone needed, our industry would collapse. Markets work best when a customer’s need exceeds, by a small margin, what is possible. This is because they will buy a product for what it can do now, but keep an eye out for the next version, which will meet the needs the current version cannot. By that time, of course, a skillful marketer will have insinuated new needs into the customer’s psyche — needs that are not met by the new version, but which will be addressed by the one that follows.
That is how a market is kept in motion: by butting up against the barrier of what is possible, or by creating such a barrier if none exists.
For the last 23 years computers have been designed based on roughly the same model — an unremarkable (by today’s standards) computer with an unremarkable processor with a wholly unremarkable 640k of memory. For the last 23 years the market has dynamically expanded because customers always wanted a computer to do slightly more than it was capable of doing. We may be nearing a point, however, where something drastic will have to change in the market in order for it to remain healthy: we have nearly reached the point where anyone will be able to use a computer for any reasonable task without exceeding its limitations.
Personal computers can now be used to edit film, record music, animate graphics — things that required professional-grade workstations ten years ago. And when we reach that point — the point when a computer can do everything the customer expects of it — what then? At that point a computer will be little more than a very complicated toaster. There are companies who make money selling toasters, but their profit margins are much smaller than ours.
The Dark Lord of Ubersoft