What it is: At the time of its introduction back in 1985, the Commodore Amiga was the first personal computer to offer a full-color graphical user interface at an affordable price.
Many people believe that the human race rationally analyzes their technology choices, logically chooses the best one, and progresses steadily forward. While this may happen on occasion, most of the time having the best technology is no guarantee that it will triumph in the end.
Back in 1985, Commodore released the Amiga, which BYTE Magazine said “was so far ahead of its time that almost nobody—including Commodore’s marketing department—could fully articulate what it was all about. Today, it’s obvious the Amiga was the first multimedia computer, but in those days it was derided as a game machine because few people grasped the importance of advanced graphics, sound, and video. Nine years later, vendors are still struggling to make systems that work like 1985 Amigas.”
In 1996, John Dvorak of PC Magazine said “[AmigaOS] remains one of the great operating systems of the past 20 years, incorporating a small kernel and tremendous multitasking capabilities the likes of which have only recently been developed in OS/2 and Windows NT. The biggest difference is that the AmigaOS could operate fully and multitask in as little as 250 K of address space.”
With the world’s first multimedia, multitasking, color graphical user interface computer, how did the Commodore Amiga fail with such advanced technology to the far more primitive, monochrome, command-line interface of MS-DOS? If superior technology won out every time, then the world should have shifted to AmigaOS decades ago. Just because far more people used MS-DOS than AmigaOS doesn’t make MS-DOS superior in any way other than selling in far greater numbers.
The truth is that once the world adopts certain technology for whatever reason, that technology tends to triumph even if better options are available. Apple enthusiasts can point to the Macintosh as superior to Windows, but the business world had already settled on Windows so Windows remained the dominant PC operating system.
Only later when Apple and Google dominated the mobile computing market with iOS and Android did Microsoft find its Windows Phone operating system in the same predicament as the Macintosh against Windows. Windows Phone is actually a decent operating system but its market share remains in the single digits and may actually be dropping.
The problem is that Windows Phone arrived too late. Anyone with an iPhone or Android phone has little reason to switch to Windows Phone. Even Microsoft can’t point out a dramatic advantage Windows Phone offers over iOS or Android. If they could, it still wouldn’t matter in much the same way that the Commodore Amiga may have been the most advanced computer at the time, but MS-DOS users had little reason to switch because all the software they wanted to run needed MS-DOS. Even though MS-DOS was clearly technologically inferior to AmigaOS, the world chose inferior technology over superior technology out of inertia.
In the mobile computing market, the world has chosen iOS and Android. Whatever you think of either operating system, it’s difficult to find a reason to abandon either one in the near future for anything else whether it’s Windows Phone or something as dramatically superior as AmigaOS was to MS-DOS.
The world doesn’t want the best technology. The world wants to choose the path of least resistance. In the 80’s that happened to be following IBM’s lead, which promoted MS-DOS and made it a corporate standard. Today, that corporate standard happens to be iOS and Android in the mobile market, Windows in the PC market, and Linux in the supercomputer and server market.
As Commodore Amiga owners learned long ago, the best technology is no guarantee of dominating the market. What defines the market is whether technology offers the best solutions to immediate problems. MS-DOS offered businesses the best solutions to their problems with programs like Lotus 1-2-3, dBASE, and WordStar/WordPerfect. AmigaOS did not.
The biggest obstacle to progress is the present. Borders Books made plenty of money selling printed books through retail stores, so when the idea of selling books over the Internet appeared, Borders decided they didn’t want to bother with it. Instead of selling books over the Internet, Borders actually directed their customers to shop at Amazon instead.
At one time, Best Buy had a massive presence in the electronics industry. To get iTunes accepted by more people in a hurry, Steve Jobs offered Best Buy 50 percent of all sales made through iTunes. All Best Buy had to do was promote iTunes in their stores. Thinking that their current business model was just fine, Best Buy refused Apple’s free offer. By 2008, iTunes would make more money than Best Buy and Walmart combined.
Kodak invented the digital camera and ignored it to focus on their lucrative film processing and film camera business. Xerox invented the graphical user interface and gave it away. Steve jobs and Steve Wozniak offered the first Apple personal computers to Hewlett-Packard who turned them down.
When opportunity knocks, most people not only ignore it, but actively drive it away as fast as possible. When people and companies succeed, they falsely believe the conditions of their success will continue for eternity as the world freezes in place so their current business model will never be obsolete.
The time to look for new opportunities is when you’re currently struggling to succeed and after you’ve already succeeded. When you cling to what used to work and deride anything new as irrelevant, that’s the first step to greasing your own inevitable decline.
Will people ever learn from the past? Probably not. Just look at the current batch of people ignoring the future by clinging to the past and the present. The moment you ignore the future, you’ve already condemned yourself to failure. All you have to do is wait.
The purpose of technology is never to be the best, but to solve pressing problems right now. If new technology fails to do that, it doesn’t matter how good it might be. The world will pass it by like they did with the Commodore Amiga.