Let’s make a prediction; this is not so common in management, even less in innovation management where 99% of the work is post-mortem analysis, with 20/20 hindsight. There’s been a lot of talk recently, including on this blog, about the FireFox phenomenon; FireFox is the open source Internet browser developed by the Mozilla foundation, recently reborn. It is a direct challenger to Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, which until recently had more than 97% market share.
There is no objective reason to switch from Explorer to FireFox. Of course, you will be told that FireFox is faster, easier to use thanks to a good design, and, last but not least in the times of fear and uncertainty, that it is more secure and less prone to attacks by viruses and other Trojan horses. But these advantage are quite meager. I have been using FireFox for several weeks now, and frankly, I don’t see much difference with Explorer. Only marginally, except of course that several important Web sites do not support FireFox, which is obviously annoying: what is more annoying in fact for a FireFox crusader than having to launch Explorer in parallel regularly in order to visit some Web sites and do real business? Based on this, I venture to predict FireFox’s failure to dislodge Explorer.
In fact, FireFox is what Innovation guru Clayton Christensen calls an incremental innovation compared to Explorer. It doesn’t fundamentally change things, it only improves some features, sometimes modestly so. In fact, on can say that the only advantage of FireFox is that it is not Explorer. That shows how the adoption of FireFox has more to do with faith and militancy than with rational choice based on product specs.
And there lies the danger. Not only are militant actions, running contrary to rational choice, fragile, but Christensen tells us that attacking a dominant incumbant on a market with an incremental innovation is doomed to failure. In his best seller "Innovator’s dilemma", Christensen shows how incremental innovation always favor incumbents, while it takes a disruptive innovation for new entrants to succeed. This suggests that FireFox stands no chance against Explorer.
Of course, each half-percent of market share gained by FireFox is immediately put forward by triumphant open source advocates and Redmond ennemies, but it should be a sobering fact to realize that Explorer still has more than 92% of the market.
What will happen then? Caught sleeping – Explorer hasn’t been improved in years – Microsoft will react in a totally predictable way: the next version 7 will be an orgy of innovations, in user interface, in security and other stuff, so much so that FireFox will rapidly look like an antic piece of software. All rational reason, if there’s ever been one, to switch from Explorer to FireFox will disappear. All will remain will be faith and militancy, and a few niches (Apple, Linux) which will help Bill Gates claim he has no monopoly. Explorer’s market share will stabilize, even go back up a bit, and voila.
It’s not very pleasant, but, as Jim Collins says, we have to confront the brutal fact: it is not with FireFox that Microsoft will be successfully challenged. Get it!
I’m impatient to see the results of the fight…