Discontinuity Bites Back
I recently suffered a dental discontinuity: my dentist opted for full-time motherhood. She sold her practice, passed my records on to her successor, and headed out to the suburbs. Although she made my migration path to the new dentist as easy as possible, I nevertheless took the opportunity to do some reconnoitering, dentistry-wise, and ended up with a new, even better practitioner. There may have been nothing wrong with her successor, but at the same time I had no compelling reason to go passively with that particular flow.
In business as well as in one's personal life, we sometimes resist following the strategies that others have laid out for us. As soon as one of our suppliers introduces an element of incompatibility in its product upgrade path that requires any re-engineering, we are tempted to reassess our options.
Users of ISI's pSOS real-time operating system will sooner or later have a choice of their own to make. One of the big stories at the Embedded Systems Conference in Chicago was Wind River's announcement that it was going to 86 pSOS. Everyone had been speculating on what Wind River's plans would be vis-à-vis this second operating system, and several pundits predicted that pSOS would be made redundant. The plan, according to Wind River chairman and co-founder Jerry Fiddler, is to converge VxWorks and pSOS so that pSOS users have a relatively painless upgrade path via a compatible API.
It's not so much that there is anything wrong with the prescribed migration path that Wind River is offering, but a couple of factors mitigate against customers embracing it universally. For one thing, the emotional factor comes into play: some pSOS users may not want to join the Wind River crowd. This is just human nature and nothing against Wind River. And while it makes no sense to abandon something willy-nilly in which you've invested heavily, if there's any cost at all associated with the migration to the next-generation product, then customers are liable to go through an evaluation process. I suspect that Wind River will have its work cut out for it trying to keep its combined customer base intact as it makes the transition to a converged platform.
Fiddler has already addressed the issue of discontinuity from the perspective of how Wind River will benefit from it. As the post-PC era gains momentum, the traditional leaders such as Microsoft and Intel will lose the advantage of legacy that has kept their momentum going. Other companies will benefit from the shift from desktop systems to Internet-enabled appliances, and Fiddler fully intends that Wind River will be one of them.
With the convergence of pSOS and VxWorks, Wind River seems to have created a discontinuity of its own. Granted it makes no sense to spend precious engineering resources supporting two parallel product paths, but no matter how smoothly you try to make the transition, it's never going to be as easy as falling off the proverbial deceased tree. Other RTOS vendors are busily putting plans into place to capture defectors. Wind River may soon discover that discontinuity cuts both ways.