Throughout the proposal, organisation, and early operation of Autodesk, my constant theme, repeated until I'm sure everybody was thoroughly sick of hearing it, was ``the game has changed.'' From the perspective of 1990, the original concept and mode of operation of Autodesk seems hopelessly naïve. It would certainly be so today, were anybody foolish enough to think they could enter what is now a mature industry in so amateurish a way.
But in 1982, I used the phrase ``the game has changed'' to shock people into realising that even then the stakes were rapidly rising and that to build a successful software company would require funds, commitment, professionalism, and risks far in excess of what previously characterised the personal computer business. Sometimes people forget that personal computers were already six years old when the IBM PC was introduced, and that several companies had grown to $10 million per year or more manufacturing CP/M, Apple II, and other early machines. What had been, in 1977, a game into which anybody with a bright idea and a soldering iron could jump in had, by 1982, become a serious business in which millions were made and lost.
The first PC software fortunes had already been made. CP/M from Digital Research, MicroPro's WordStar, and Visicorp's VisiCalc dominated the software landscape to such an extent that some believed no opportunities remained to found new mass-market software companies.
Yet today, none of those companies commands a substantial position in the market. What happened? The game changed, but they did not. As the game changed, the stakes to stay in it grew enormously and those companies, the former leaders, failed to summon the resources they needed and the courage to deploy them. What one day looked like an utter, unassailable monopoly fully as secure as AutoCAD's grip upon the CAD market evaporated within months at the hands of competitors with products that better served the customers in the new environment. Times have changed; clear the screen; turn the page.
When the IBM PC appeared, the expectations of software customers rose rapidly. Software purchasers would no longer settle for a disc with a handwritten label, a five page manual photocopied from a dot-matrix original, or unreliability of any kind. The standards of quality, professionalism, presentation, and support all rapidly escalated, and those companies who survived were those who realised the bar had been raised and did what was necessary to continue to clear it. Indeed, the great successes of the early IBM PC era: Microsoft, Lotus, and Ashton-Tate, were the very companies that raised expectations through their own products. Since that time, standards have continued to rise and the struggle for supremacy in the mainstream business applications: word processing, spreadsheets, and databases, has largely been contested by increasing product quality, functionality, and customer service.
When major shifts occur in user expectations, dominant hardware and software platforms, and channels of distribution, companies which fail to anticipate these changes and/or react to them once they are underway are supplanted by competitors with more foresight and willingness to act. The displacement of Digital Research by Microsoft, of VisiCalc by Lotus, and the current eclipse of 1-2-3 at the hands of Microsoft Excel are all examples of this process.
Editor: John Walker