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A question of demand

The obvious answer is better marketing - but people like Elison, Jobs, and McNealy are hardly beginnersat the game and yet, the market speaks: Microsoft wins. time after time.

There's a general issue with how we register product demand that just begs for more research and thought. The question goes like this: is the way we collect consumer preference data blinding us to the data we don't collect?

Lets start, however, with the classic 'and the market spake' routine the Microsoft people love to hit us with.

In the spring of 1984, people could buy Unix, Mac/OS, or PC-DOS based machines. About 50,000 (2%) people picked the multi-user Tandy 6000HD. At $4,499 this offered 512K of RAM, a 15MB hard disk, a 1.2MB eight inch floppy, an integrated 24 x 80 screen, and two CPUs - a Z80C for backwards compatibility with TRS-DOS and a 7.54MHz MC68000 [with 32 bit data registers and 16/24 bit addressing] that ran (Microsoft) Xenix off the hard disk.Mac XL from 1984

About 30,000 people (1%) picked the MacXL. At a list price of $5,495 this offered 1MB of RAM on a MC68000 at 7.54Mhz (5 on early models) with a 10MB disk, a 720K 3.5 inch floppy, the MacOS GUI and a full suite of graphical applications on a high contrast, black on white-ish green, 640 by 480 screen.

Almost 97% of sales went to the IBM PC/AT. For only five dollars more than the Mac, this offered a maximum of 256KB of ram on a 16 x 16 bit chip running at 5.77Mhz with a 10MB disk, a 360K 5.25 inch floppy, PC-DOS, a BASIC interpreter, and a 24 x 80 green screen.

With each new generation, the PC has been a generation behind and a bit more expensive, but with each new generation the market has spoken in favor of the thing. Why?

Oh, and before we go further, let me get that PC is cheaper nonsense out of the way: any PC capable of running a licensed (i.e not free) Windows is capable of running a free Unix. Take the same hardware cost, add a free OS on one side and a not free OS on the other, and the Unix total will always be less.

So why?

The obvious answer is better marketing - but people like Elison, Jobs, and McNealy are hardly beginners at the game and yet, the market speaks: Microsoft wins. time after time.

There are lots of excuses, but they're historical. Yes, originally IBM drove sales because IBM loyalists controlled corporate IT budgets. Yes, when Compaq won the right to clone the BIOS and thus opened the architecture, there was a gold rush among people willing to help buyers pretend all those bad decisions were good ones. Great, but today there are lots of good choices, the IBM bigots aren't in charge anymore, Linux is every bit as politically correct as Windows, and yet second best and not even close keep beating best. So what's driving that?

It's not multi-media, despite all the people who say it is - because everything they claim to value about XP in this field today was true of the iMac in 1999 and they didn't value it then.

As I mentioned on Monday, a small part of the answer may lie in the fact that there's now no way to register demand for a product that's not on the shelf in places like Best Buy. You can talk to anyone you like at the stores, but supply chain automation means that the demand equation is driven by inventory depletion, not customer requests. No starting inventory = no demand. It's that simple.

I've suggested a demand registry for Linux software as a palliative, but there's a lot more to this. Tomorrow I'm going to talk about peanuts and allergies, for today I'd like to ask those of you who work somewhere in a supply chain to think about the question: what do you do to measure off inventory demand? What can you do? What opportunities is your company missing?