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The virtue of ubiquity

With technology, ubiquity is a virtue. People use Microsoft Word because everyone else does. The CD-Rom became a more popular backup device than the Zip, Jazz or SyQuest disk because there were lots of manufacturers involved. And, of course, floppies took far too long to die simply because they were everywhere, despite being evil unreliable and having a tiny capacity. Sony Betamax failed in part because far more movies were available for VHS. JVC was also proactive in licensing the VHS technology to lots of manufacturers. Consumers did not want to buy two different video players, so in the end most chose VHS simply because of its ubiquity.

Today, in the current format war between Blu-Ray Disc and HD-DVD, it seems that (unlike two decades ago) the Sony-backed format is going to win. This is despite the fact that Blu-Ray discs cost more to manufacture (although, arguably, Blu-Ray is the better format).

Why will Blu-Ray win? Because, firstly, Sony equipped every PlayStation 3 with Blu-Ray capability. Conversely, Microsoft (a major backer of HD-DVD) decided to only make it available as £100 add-on for its Xbox 360. Secondly, according to Wikipedia, as of late November there were 415 titles available in the US for Blu-Ray, compared with only 344 for HD-DVD. A search on WHSmith.co.uk brings up 259 results for “blu-ray”, but only 167 for “hd-dvd”.

Yet over the coming years, some of the companies that have benefited from the economics of ubiquity may find it turns round and bites them. With OpenOffice only ever a free download away, will people keep going to PC World and paying for Microsoft Office? Schools are already questioning whether it is a good to teach on expensive proprietary software in the classroom, when if they were to use open source applications, all the pupils would be able to practice with the same software at home.

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23 comments to The virtue of ubiquity

  • Rob

    It’s quite a massive stretch to say BluRay will win due to Sony’s inclusion of a BluRay player in its PS3 console. The PS3 has been plagued by very lackluster sales since its release to market. Not to mention it’s always been outsold 2:1 by the Wii or 360.

  • Tony

    Yeah but neither the Wii or 360 play either format.

  • Rob

    Very true, but what’s the point of a video game console? To play video games or to play movies? I’d be very surprised if someone went about interviewing gamers about their console purchases and found that gamers bought consoles simply because of the HD/BluRay technology under the hood. Simple market research proves this completely false. The PS3 has barely 18% of the console market. The Wii, with no HD/BluRay technology whatsoever has managed to corner over 40% of the market. The Xbox 360, with no built-in HD/BluRay capability has the remainder of the market (just under 40%). What that boils down to is that gamers buy systems not for their movie-playing technology, but for the games. Not to mention the Wii and 360 are cheaper than the PS3 by a considerable amount.

  • Razerwolfe

    I’m not sure either format will be a winner. Hard copy format may fade in importance with the rise of people downloading and playing movies at home. On their computer. With whatever codec or decoder is needed to play it. And if some company is going to get uppity then someone somewhere will just dupe it into another more readable format and voila. Downloading information is the future, not monolithic boxes. That or multi-type players.

  • Quick informal poll: who uses OpenOffice?

    I do.

  • Razerwolfe

    I do. As well as a host of other open source stuff like 7-zip instead of Winzip (7-zip also opens .rar files).

  • apex

    Rob, I think you are missing something if you think the point of a video game console is playing video games. Both the XBox and the PS3 are becoming full-fledged media centers, with support for both downloadable video content and HD discs, be it HD-DVD or Blu-ray. And it makes sense, why buy two or three devices, when one can do all the jobs?

    And Razerwolf: Download may be the future, but HD content takes a lot of bandwith and disk space – unless something changes with hard disk technology, 50 gigabytes per movie will require some form of optical storage, at least for “to own” – rental/pay-per-view may go a different way. But even there, do not underestimate the transmission capacity of a truck loaded with data CDs or even HD-disks, as witnessed, for example, by Amazon’s DVD by mail rental in Europe.

    Perry: Yes, OpenOffice.

    apex

  • Both Blu-Ray and HD-DVD are crippled with DRM. I have no intention of using either.

  • Jack Coupal

    Ubiquity of any technology may win greatest market share simply because it is good enough to be accepted by the market.

    Betamax may have been technically superior, but VHS was good enough to meet the market’s needs and wants. It became dominant.

  • Errol

    The few times I’ve tried to use OO’s spreadsheet for anything other than the most basic things, I’ve found it lacking. This may partially be my lack of specific knowledge, but I’m used to a text import wizard and and pasting from filtered lists.

  • Open Office & Google Apps have freed me from Micro-serfdom.

    MS Excel is the only best-of-breed product that MS still has, but there is a UK developed rival coming that has just got third round funding…

  • Ubiquity of any technology may win greatest market share simply because it is good enough to be accepted by the market.

    Indeed. There is no other way to explain the dominance of MSWord. It’s “good enough;” it’s definitely not “great.”

    This may partially be my lack of specific knowledge, but I’m used to a text import wizard and and pasting from filtered lists.

    I used to hate OO, but on its latest iteration it seems decent enough. I find its spreadsheet import tools easier to use than Excel’s, actually – but then, I’m not all that practiced in Excel.

    MS Excel is the only best-of-breed product that MS still has, but there is a UK developed rival coming that has just got third round funding…

    Good timing. If someone is going to start chipping away at Microsoft’s dominance, now is definitely the time to do it.

  • Nick M

    Well I use AL Zip because it’s free and bonkers. Anyone else who uses it will know exactly what I mean by the second part of that statement and very useful a side benefit it is too. I still use floppies. I wish I didn’t have to but I do. Open Office is good kit and BTW I know of no one who hiked down to PC World for MS Office. They either pirated it or it came with their PC. Practically none of my clients have ever changed their PC from it’s factory settings. Hordes of them still use that utter junk Works. Quite a few of them don’t even know you can change the wallpaper. The extent to which huge numbers of folks are just not confident PC users is staggering. It’s my job to sort ’em out. Ever wondered why so many folks still use hotmail? It’s because they don’t know how to configure an IMAP a/c in T-Bird or Outlook (Express). Everyone has at least one email address. Talk about a killer app? How about an email client that worked out of the box?

  • knirirr

    who uses OpenOffice?

    Not me, but I don’t like “Office” software of that sort and so I don’t use Microsoft office either if I can possibly avoid it.

  • dagamore

    While Blu-ray might be a slightly better format then HD-dvd, in capacity only, all other features are the same, or would be transferable via a player update. HD-Dvd might just win due to the number of the sub 100USD 1080P player that were sold over black friday in the US. And right now the HD 1080P players (Toshi HD-A2) that is still only 220USD vs 300USD. Alot of people will not care that more movies are on BluRay, or that the BluRay might have a few more features. The HD player is 80USD cheaper(prices from amazon) And they know that once one format wins out, all movies will be in that format at some time. Just like when DVD’s first came out not all titles were on that format, some were still VHS only releases, but after a while they are all on DVD. Just my 2 cent.s

  • Julian Taylor

    Don’t know of many people who actually use CD as a method of backup anymore, or indeed as a method of portability. Just about everyone I know now has a 500Gb external hard drive and something like Backup or Retrospect running once a week to copy everything onto that drive overnight. For transferring data from one computer to another I just use a series of 1Gb USB pen drives (£3.99 each from Aria) and a 4Gb one for larger items.

    Sony Betamax failed in part because far more movies were available for VHS.

    Certainly it failed in competition with the VHS format, but Betamax is still the preferred professional choice for broadcast trasmission, both the BetaSP and Digibeta formats.

    Regarding the Blu-ray/HD wars, Toshiba appear to have sided with the HD format, as do the vast majority of computer retailers (Dell have just announced a blu-ray drive will be on their laptops and Acer are being rather ambivalent about their choice, installing it on at least one laptop while maintaining HD as the standard for their other laptops). In fact Samsung, one of Sony’s main backers in the Blu-Ray project, appear to have swung over to the rival camp by installed HD drives in their new range of laptop computers. Various reviewers have noticed that the main problem with the blu-ray system is the truly hideous level of DRM control on the format, that makes it almost totally impossible to watch a blu-ray movie on a computer, and even then not at the full 1080 resolution) and those state-of-art computers that can play it suffer constant frame-skipping and crashing. Fortunately this is not the case with the rival HD format which has now been around for well over a year in many laptops – I have one in an Acer laptop and it’s quality is quite amazing, although the DRM is still quite a pain.

    Much as I might wish Sony every success I’m not going to be backing them to be the new standard for HD format discs.

  • Tony Nibbles

    Everyone just wants one format to go ahead and win.
    I hope it’s Blu Ray, it seems to be doing better with overall sales, the sooner there is a clear winner, the better for everyone.

    I’m glad Apple are supporting Blu Ray too. Whilst it might be a while before there are drives in AppleMacs, in the meantime Vaios have been keeping the PC market for a year now with Blu Ray equipped drives.

    @Rob Very true, but what’s the point of a video game console? To play video games or to play movies? I’d be very surprised if someone went about interviewing gamers about their console purchases and found that gamers bought consoles simply because of the HD/BluRay technology under the hood. Simple market research proves this completely false. The PS3 has barely 18% of the console market. The Wii, with no HD/BluRay technology whatsoever has managed to corner over 40% of the market. The Xbox 360, with no built-in HD/BluRay capability has the remainder of the market (just under 40%). What that boils down to is that gamers buy systems not for their movie-playing technology, but for the games. Not to mention the Wii and 360 are cheaper than the PS3 by a considerable amount.

    I don’t think Sony have ever undermined their PS3 console by calling it a ‘games console’. I think they always refer to it as ‘the next generation of interactive entertainment’. Or ‘home entertainment system’. They’d be cutting themselves short if they ever called it just ‘a games console’.

    Comparing units sold isn’t exactly fair either.
    Whilst the Sony PS3 might hold a smaller portion of the market at this time, Sony still holds a huge portion with PS2 and the wee PSP.
    The PS3 has sold roughly the same amount as the 360 had, when it was 12 months in to it’s lifecycle. Considering the sizable price difference between the two – that’s not exactly ‘doing badly’. With the price dropped, games actually arriving for the platform, the PS3 isn’t going anywhere. Following the price drop it’s selling 2nd place in most European countries at the moment, after Wii. Not to mention in Japan, where the recent arrival of cheaper hardware has meant a huge boost in sales, claiming the #1 spot for 2 weeks in a row.

  • Midwesterner

    Currently Open Office 2.0. I don’t use it much either by frequency or function. Mostly for spreadsheets.

  • patrick

    Given that BluRay/HDDVD players are already available, the format will probably be wholly irrelevant in the future.

  • Neither format will win, nor needs to. In two years’ time Korean manufacturers will be selling multi-format players for £20 in Asda.

    Much like Nick M’s clients who don’t know they can change their Windows wallpaper, most people don’t care about HD. So right now, HD discs are an enthusiast format only, and the format war doesn’t matter in that market either because enthusiasts will just buy players for both formats. More on that here.

    Re. Rob above and the PS3 — I bought mine because it was the cheapest and best Blu-ray player at the time. The games are an added bonus.

  • jk

    Never underestimate Sony’s capacity to lose a format war. Beta is generally considered better than VHS, the miniDisc was a cool early R/W digital music format, 8mm AIT tape was a good choice for computer backup. All rotting in landfills.

  • Joe

    Concerning Betamax:

    The professional version shares only the tape size with the commercial version; they are drastically different technologies with the same name.

  • naman

    Brave man, wading into the bloodbath known as the Blu-Ray, HD-DVD arena. Many a flame war has emerged from this subject.

    As for myself, I’ll wait this one out. I’m not that enthused about upgrading my movie collection yet again. Mr. Lucas has enough of my money from buying his movies on VHS and DVD.