When I think about technology and the changes to the world around me, over the past 20 years I find there are distinct inflection points. Not the tipping points as Mr. Gladwell called them but points where for a moment we could have gone either way.
The first was the release of Windows 95. A huge tipping point, as an IT person at that time I can say that the product, Windows 95 was a game changer. It made so many things easier than they used to be. Certainly, there were a few nuances that you had to learn. Plug and play were more like plug and pray. The reality was drivers in 1995 didn’t always work as well as they should have. But Windows 95 was a huge changing point. The windows 3.1 world, while interesting wasn’t as easy to use as the Macintosh OS at the time. Windows 95 was just as easy to use as the Macintosh OS. The first major inflection point. While the Macintosh was already a lesser player in the market prior to the release of Windows 95, it was now relegated to also-ran status.
My next inflection point, which applies to me, was my move to Microsoft as an employee. I went to work for the company of Bill Gates. The vision of a computer in every home, a solution to the question what can we do? Yes, I gave up my Macintosh computer. I had been an Apple user since 1984 at that point. The commercial had gotten me moving away from PC’s towards the Apple Light. The reality of Windows 95 and my becoming an employee of Microsoft was the next inflection point for me. I gave up my Macintosh and only had PC’s in the house.
Microsoft Exchange was the next big thing. Because it was a product that made it easier to connect your computer and your thoughts to other people. Look, in 1996 Lotus Notes, (this was before the addition of the Domino project so it was still Notes the server and Notes the client) was a much better product. But Lotus Notes had two fatal flaws in it. While it was the best remote client on the market in 1996 it was not as good a mail server as Microsoft Exchange, and Lotus Notes tried to do too much. The purchases of Lotus by IBM, the IBM attempt to stop the growth of Microsoft. Actually hilarious if you think about it, there was a time when IBM made Microsoft and then spent the next 20 years trying to crush Microsoft and failing miserably. The inflection point was competing with Lotus Notes. I remember being the lone voice in the wilderness for the next 5 years. Trying to compete with IBM, who had a better product (Lotus Notes) and much stronger services. We did, by the way, win that war.
The next inflection point that I see has two components. The first was the creation of, the growth of and value of Cloud Computing. The second was the need for cloud computing solutions drive by the rise of the smartphone. As a Microsoft employee at the time, I knew that we had a flawed system, the Pocket PC phone. Our best hope was that no one realized how flawed that system was. In the end, sadly but perhaps more importantly realistically Steve Jobs saw the hole. As one of the people that saw the flaw in Lotus Notes, I saw the flaw in the PocketPC phones. But I did nothing to save the PPC. I watched, laughed and poked fun at Apple for the stupid iPhone. I knew I was wrong, I knew what was coming was a Tsunami and I only had a surfboard. The iPhone in 2007 made the cloud suddenly critical path.
These technology inflection points were all game changing. The mix of the art of the possible with the reality of what could be done. Both cloud computing and the iPhone/smartphone continue to change not only the world around us but what we perceive as possible. Certainly when we consider the past 20 years there are other technology inflection points. The addition of a camera to your cellular phone ushered in the death of the film camera. Yes, there are still people that use film, but not many. For the most part, most people take pictures with their cellular phones. The quality is ok, not the greatest but better than not having the picture at all. The addition of GPS’s receivers and the expansion of Google Maps killed handheld GPS’s. You carry your cell phone everywhere. Why would you need a handheld GPS?
Things continue to evolve. More and more is possible holding less and less. The next inflection point that I see coming is the final transition from the pre-information age we are into the truly information age reality of tomorrow. So close yet so far. Change is inevitable, a small creature that creeps upon us with slippered feet that we do not hear. Yea though change is around me I will not fear it!
Images today courtesy of the digital collection of Dr. Hans O. Andersen
Inflection points aren’t just tipping…