Future Makers

Past, Present and Future

Large Corporations
Technically Talented Individuals
Standardisation Bodies
Industry Consortia
Successful Technician-Entrepreneurs
Corporate CEOs
Science Fiction Writers

In the beginning there quickly emerged "big blue" to dominate the industry, at its prime taking an 80% market share. With that kind of clout the rest of the industry had to fit in with what IBM did, decisions made by technical staff at IBM became de facto standards and shaped the future of the industry. Sometimes technical developments were associated closely with specific individuals, e.g. E.F.Codd and the relational database, but being employed by IBM made a big difference to the chances of your good ideas winning through.

Once the dominance of IBM became conspicuous the rest of the industry realised the advantage that standardisation de facto conferred on IBM. If the standard would be whatever IBM chose to do, then IBM would always be ahead of the field. Open standardisation processes and industry consortia emerged as attempts to wrestle control from IBM of the technical direction of the industry. A major thrust in this direction was provided by the need for computers to interwork and lead to the development of standards for Open Systems Interconnection.

These had pretty small impact on the dominant position of IBM. It was the invention of the microprocessor which was to lead eventually to the eclipse of IBM.

With the development of the microprocessor, control of the future was prised away from the megacorporation. The phenomenon of this era was the garage start-up. Talented young men who combined technical expertise with business intiative, started their own corporations and changed the direction of the industry. Many of these are now the visionary CEOs of the large corporations (Microsoft, Sun, Apple, ORACLE) which are the descendents of the garage startups. These people are now among the Future Makers and represent a shift from anonymous corporate power, to the power of successful technical entrepreneurs.

Meanwhile, the politics of standardisation evolved. It was discovered that ratification of a standard by an international organisation may not suffice to secure the adoption of the standard throughout the industry. The most conspicuous example of this has been the flagship of institutional standardisation, OSI, which was gradually overtaken by the growth of the internet, based on standards evolved in less formal ways backed by the experience of practical application. For many years the OSI standardisers regarded themselves as designing the future of communications, and largely ignored the internet. Eventually it became apparent that the internet was the de facto global network, and that its standards were the ones you would have to use if you wanted to connect to the rest of the world.

Now there are very many organisations involved in different ways in creating tomorrow's standards, and a greater understanding of the politics of standardisation. An awareness that conducting a formal open process of consultation is no substitute for commitment from the key industry players who would have to implement the standards. As standardisation has emerged from the Canute era it has become so important that corporations will surrender control of their technologies to an independent body (e.g. microsoft and COM) in an attempt to secure support from other parties.

up home © RBJ created 1997/7/31 modified 1997/9/21