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Of Protocols, Op Systems, & Optimizations — A Reminder that History Rhymes

Today’s great debates between the merits of Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, Monero, and the 1400+ other cryptocurrencies, have antecedents that deserve mention.

Everything new is old, including crypto intrigues.

In the 1990s we had the desktop/notebook operating system battles. Are you a Mac or a PC? Over the last 2 decades we have had the mobile operating system battles. Symbian ruled the roost and was the globe’s top smartphone OS from 1998 to 2010, when Android stole the top spot. Today it’s, ”Are you an IOS or Android user?”.

There are real lessons to be learned and pitfalls to be avoided. The initial wave of innovation captures the imagination. The PC operating systems wars raged after it became clear that the personal computer was a game changer. Work has never been the same. Play has been forever altered. Modern electronic computers began to be made, and experimented with, in the 1950s. From 1980–1987 US PC sales went from 1M to over 9M per year. In 1997, on the eve of the tech bubble, 90M PC were sold as the Internet nudged the PC out of contention as the bubble/innovation vehicle.

The great battle raged between PC and Mac. There were other contenders and winners and losers took a while to sort.

Smart phone wars have raged as long as there have been smartphones – and a lot longer than you might think that phones have been smart. As far back as the late 1990s dozens of hardware manufacturers contended with Palm OS and various forms and types of operating systems or platforms. Windows had an offering, Palm had an offering, and Symbian stole the global market with their offering. Versions of this operating system ran on at least 2/3 of phones globally.

Apple began the run on this operating system with the iPhone. Android replaced the role and market dominance over the years after Google took it over. As in the PC space, there were battles over platform. It is far from clear that the best technology won out. The first movers were supplanted as a chaotic scrum for platform dominance which occurred once the size of the market opportunity was recognized.

Ultimately, there are massive economies of scale. Operating systems are only as good as the software applications built atop them. This was repeated in Internet providers, mobile operating systems, and now blockchains. The first great modern bubble set the stage. Starting in 1993, mosaic- later Netscape – offered the general public an early onramp to the World Wide Web. Thus, web browsers went from clunky research tools to household items. Pitched battles between AOL, Internet Explorer (Microsoft) and Netscape ensued. Many firms and technologies competed. Vast fortunes were made and lost: A bubble inflated, grew, & popped.

The best technology did not win. The first movers did not triumph. Pioneers built something new and different. Techies and insiders were the first wave of adapters and converts. They became evangelists. The investment community arrived. Real advances were vastly exaggerated and great fortunes became the goal, not rapid incremental innovation and application.

A bubble formed, it was hyped to epic proportion. It exploded. After the shakeout great companies were able to rise. Platform battles transfix their moments. Great applications survive and prosper across operating systems.

Why? Killer apps – they draw and hold users.

This is how tech innovations bubbles form, inflate, pop and yield real and enduring value.

    • The germination occurs in specialty user communities.
    • It spreads to young early adopter communities.
    • Overnight fortunes are imagined- a few are made and exaggerated.
    • News spreads, a bubble forms.
    • 4 Teams become 4 teams on every project.
    • Interlopers, scammers, and dreamers arrive in droves.
    • The bubble inflates and spreads.
    • The old guard shakes their great grey heads.
    • The bubble bursts.
    • Overnight fortunes become sob stories and documentaries.
    • Great ideas and teams are cheap — too cheap.
    • 4 out of 5 leave the space.
    • Impossible revolution turns out to be transformative evolution.
    • Great fortunes are made. The old guard overpays, and or withers.

Of course there is much richness, intensity, and some real pain, in the mix. We see Distributed Ledger Technologies following this path.

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