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The Change Function, by Pip Coburn

(My blogging is likely to be fairly light this weekend as my main computer crashed and I’m forced to limp along with a secondary one for a bit.)

I just finished reading The Change Function by Pip Coburn. This one caught my eye when it came out earlier this summer and jumped up on the Amazon bestseller list. I was particularly interested in whether it really delivered on the promise of its subtitle: Why Some Technologies Take Off and Others Crash and Burn.

Did it? Sort of. The book is based on the premise that a new technology will only succeed if it addresses a user crisis and if its perceived pain of adoption is low. Makes sense, to the point of being fairly obvious. In fact, this is truly one of those books that really doesn’t require 200 pages to explain – it’s a great candidate for getAbstract.

A couple of the more interesting tidbits/observations I came across in this book:

…while technologies may seem disruptive, they are much more likely to be adopted if they offer incremental adjustments to new users and not complete deviations from life as we know it.

The adoption of flat panel screens by retailers around the planet establishes “cool” in a similar way to what other technologies achieve with celebrity placement.

Coburn also talks about how uses a software development and release model that more companies should follow. He notes how their “Learn-->Fail-->Relearn” approach allows for faster, iterative releases built around customer feedback. On the surface, it would seem that Microsoft couldn’t follow this sort of model because their applications reside on your computer and aren’t dynamic, malleable web-based applications. But why couldn’t Microsoft do the same? After all, they’re taking a lot of heat from shareholders and industry experts on the length of time (5 years) since their last major O.S. release.

How could Microsoft follow this model? What about the Automatic Update process they use to patch and update Windows XP, for example.  Yes, I know those downloads today are limited to bug fixes and other critical patches, but there’s no reason they couldn’t also include new functionality from time to time. Why couldn’t they have fed some of the updates that will appear in Vista through this process? OK, admins and other corporate IT gatekeepers would have to buy into it, but this too can be accomplished.

As you can tell, this book caused me to think a bit…but only a bit.


Kevin Hood

I'm guessing here (as always) but the current Microsoft OS is apparently so bloated, poorly written, and full of security holes that they wouldn't want to improve / expand upon an OS that was not great to begin with. They are rewriting the kernel and probably don't feel updates to their "old OS" is worth the time and expense.

The dynamic updates that Salesforce offers are great for users, especially for unhappy ones as they have had many, and probably easier for the developers because it's not as complex as a real operating system. I wish MS could just automatically update us with new features, but that kind of security level / permission to install programs and change deep level code may lead to holes for hackers to prey upon. Plus, MS likes for us to pay more money for new features that they should have included. Hopefully, Vista will allow for more updates and free new features in a secure manner.

Not trying to beat down any of your thoughts…I like how you think outside of the box. Any programmer would love it as it would secure their job! It sounds like the book was somewhat of an interesting read. The author must have mentioned eBay in his analogy. They took a common and easily understood concept like an auction, and simply made it happen online. They slowly added more features, but it's still "just an auction”.

Joe Wikert

Hi Kevin. You make excellent points. The security issue itself is a thorny one. Even if they couldn't push out feature updates like this for Windows, I would think Office updates would be reasonable. As far as the revenue stream is concerned, yes, this would require Microsoft to switch over to a purely subscription-based model, not the one where consumers wait for a new version and then pay for a box/CD/license.

You mentioned eBay and I didn't recall Coburn referring to them at all, so I checked the index. Zero entries, which is indeed rather surprising. I didn't want to beat this book up too much, but I hope from my summary you can see it wasn't one of my favorites. It had a simple message, one that could have easily been conveyed in about 3 pages.

Kevin Hood

Yup, I could tell it wasn't one of your favorites! MS has been trying to push the subscription model for years so that would be right up their alley. Office updates and features alone would be cool, but I don't know if they would be worth paying a monthly / yearly fee for. I'm still waiting for a killer third party email app. Some of the handheld developers may port their programs over to MS and beat the big boys to it.

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