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Bruce Schneier Weighs in on IT Lock-in Strategies 186

dhavleak writes "Wired has an article from Bruce Schneier on the intersection of security technologies and vendor lock-ins in IT. 'With enough lock-in, a company can protect its market share even as it reduces customer service, raises prices, refuses to innovate and otherwise abuses its customer base. It should be no surprise that this sounds like pretty much every experience you've had with IT companies: Once the industry discovered lock-in, everyone started figuring out how to get as much of it as they can.'"
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Bruce Schneier Weighs in on IT Lock-in Strategies

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  • by KublaiKhan ( 522918 ) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @06:32PM (#22341506) Homepage Journal
    Right down to the processor level, even. If they're going to try to lock me into their hardware and software, I want none of it.

    Does anyone have a link to some resources on how one might build one's own processor? How much does it cost to do that sort of thing?
  • Re:As in... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by somersault ( 912633 ) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @06:43PM (#22341680) Homepage Journal
    Or having to buy a bank of hours for your outsourcing partner, as we do :/ d'oh!
  • by Penguinisto ( 415985 ) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @06:45PM (#22341740) Journal
    I love the one from Cadence that required a license key which in turn ties into a specific MAC address before it'll start up... hope the NIC doesn't die (I'm currently stuck with seeing if I can get a VM instance going and fake the same MAC for a migration... not looking good, and not a day goes by that I don't curse my predecessor for installing that POS in the first place).

    Hell, my management fears vendor lock-in more than they fear Death itself (which probably explains why we're a very heavy Linux shop)...

    I realize that a lot of PHB's couldn't care less (and an alarming # of CIO's and IT management don't either), but we're far enough along now that it's starting to bite a lot of accountants and IT critters square in the ass.

    IMHO, it does matter, and it explains why a lot of shops are moving away from proprietary solutions, going to Linux/BSD and such.

    Now if only we can definitively tackle the two biggest examples of attempted vendor lock-in alive (Exchange and MS Office), we'd be set.


  • by Obfuscant ( 592200 ) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @06:57PM (#22341884)
    I'm currently stuck with seeing if I can get a VM instance going and fake the same MAC for a migration...

    The beauty of using Linux is that you get the source code. ALL the source code. Even the code that implements the IOCTL function for "tell me my interface's MAC address".

  • by wandazulu ( 265281 ) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @06:59PM (#22341918)
    Per the article, sure, you can switch to a Pepsi in a second if you don't like the Coke, but both Pepsi and Coke spend *enormous* amounts of money to suggest that switching to the competitor's product will make you less desirable to women, less success at your job, etc. That's what advertising is all about, trying to get you to lock *yourself* in, willingly, to a single product.

    But I digress...

    Everybody dreams of being Ma Bell, where even putting a plastic cone on a headset could "damage the network". A lot of companies have had their turn too. We all think of Microsoft as being the king of lock-in, but for my money, it would still be IBM, where their mainframes and mid-range machines were so locked down that you had to get approval to install *anything*. At least with a PC or even a Mac, you can install another OS and you're free and clear. With IBM equipment, they could shut you down remotely if you missed a single "usage" payment (which was calculated *by* *the* *processor* *cycle*!!).

    I cannot think of a single company that wouldn't want total lock-in of its users, regardless of industry. Some are just more capable of doing it than others.
  • by kidcharles ( 908072 ) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @07:28PM (#22342288)

    "But that's not good for capitalism, so it isn't the goal of capitalism!" while sitting on Mommy's lap or at Mommy's Marxist University
    Actually the tendency for capitalism to eat itself alive with its drive for monopolization is accepted in and is part of Marxist economic theory. Another contradiction of capitalism that is an observation in Marxist theory is the desire of an individual firm to pay its employees as little as possible, but that depends on well-paid consumers having enough money to buy their products. That's my personal favorite.
  • by Sloppy ( 14984 ) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @07:39PM (#22342426) Homepage Journal

    Buying an iPhone isn't the same as buying a car or a toaster. Your iPhone comes with a complicated list of rules about what you can and can't do with it.
    Unlike cars?
  • by aeoo ( 568706 ) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @08:03PM (#22342708) Journal
    Probably meant as a joke, but this is very profoundly insightful from a spiritual point of view. This is in essence what spiritual adepts in many spiritual paths will do. The "physical" lock-in is happening in your own mind at a very deep level. It is non-trivial to overcome it.
  • Re:Be Creative! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by MightyMartian ( 840721 ) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @08:09PM (#22342760) Journal

    Heck, I know one place that runs their financials on a Win 3.1 program. Its been doing everything they need for 15 years, and they're not going to change. It works, it runs fine under xp, and why fix what ain't broke?

    Then they're very lucky indeed. I've seen a lot of accounting/financial software that I can only conclude is intentionally busted in places, and where these bugs are addressed with "Don't worry AccountingMegaWonderPro 2008 will fix this problem", which it does, of course, but opens up new ones, which are then going to be fixed with "AccountingMegaWonderPro 2009". This kind of software is awful in many ways, because the file formats are frequently proprietary, or at the very least some sort of locked MS-Access database that even when you crack it, you find an almost uninterpretable array of tables, dictionaries, queries and fields. The export formats to CSV or XML are usually insufficiently detailed, and it still means a lot of data entry to move from one accounting package to another. I've seen business stick for years to shitty accounting systems simply because the thought of moving to a new platform is so horrifying.
  • BUSINESS = LOCK-IN (Score:3, Interesting)

    by v(*_*)vvvv ( 233078 ) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @08:44PM (#22343134)
    This has nothing to do with IT. Business is all about lock-in. If this comes as a surprise, you don't know the basics of business. You can do it "cleanly" and morally and ethically through things such as superior customer service, superior product functionality, and superior value for the price. Or, you can be "dirty" and use things such as technology and software barriers, vendor pressure tactics, bias contracts and user agreements, biological mechanisms such as addiction, and lobbying and manipulating the law. The stock market, our way of evaluating and rewarding corporate perforance, unfortunately does not make any distiction between these clean and dirty lock-in tactics. The system's only real requirement is that we obide by the law and don't get caught cheating. Given this requirement, companies gain enormous advantages by being dirty. In this free capitalist market, those with advantages ultimately win and they get heavily rewarded for it. The result? Hello Microsoft, hello Nike, hello Exxon Mobil, hello Time Warner AOL Cable. And just when you thought Apple was gaining marketshare, what a surprise, we talk about how they are just getting better at being dirty.

    Eventhough the government talks about being all for fair competition in an open market, their behavior and the law which they help create says otherwise. Intellectual property law, anti-trust law, and much of the consitution is comprised of lock-in catalysts. Mergers and aquisitions heavily support lock-ins as well.

    Whether you are selling iPhones at Apple Stores or hotdogs at an intersection in Manhattan, you are still trying to lock-in your customers. And the better you do it, the more the United States of America will reward you.

  • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Thursday February 07, 2008 @08:53PM (#22343232) Homepage that it works. I don't know how many times I've heard the argument about going with all Microsoft or all SAP or all this and that because it's so hard to make it work with everything else. You don't throw out the incompatible software, you buy more of it until you use it for things it's not suited for and has a hundred interfaces to other applications. And once you make yourself a little "mini-monopoly" with no real alternatives, they sure know how to gauge you. While there's plenty work left ahead, I think compatibility and multiple vendors will become the major advantages of open source.
  • by Technician ( 215283 ) on Friday February 08, 2008 @02:23AM (#22345550)
    Lock-in is anything that creates barriers to moving to a competitor.

    Often lock-in is the driving force to open standards and the proprietary vendors have to change or die. The most recent example of this that I can point to is the theatrical lighting industry. Martin, Strand, MSI, and other inteligent lighting manufactures all had their own standard for running lighting. Touring companies found it difficult to interface with all the lighting systems. A committie was formed to produce a standard that wasn't any of the already established standards to avoid any patent and royalty bias toward any one manufacture.

    The birth of the DMX-512 standard came out. Now it is almost impossible to sell any lighting system that doesn't support the standard. []
    "This standard is intended to provide for interoperability at both communication and mechanical levels with controllers made by different manufacturers."

    Almost everything now uses the new standard from Drama, Dance, and Club Nightlife. If you buy an intelligeht moving light, It's almost guaranteed to use the DMX-512 signal, even if the connector isn't the standard 5 pin XLR. An exception to the DMX standard is the one for architectural using multiple wall stations for building lights. Even these control systems often output DMX-512 signals to use standard dimmers.

    In some specialty fields some still try with something other than the standard. As an example the animated Christmas lights often use the Lights-o-Rama system which is incompatible with everything else. []

    It is a cheaper alternative with a lower cost per dimmer, but it is limited to dimmers only. It won't run all the disco and concert moving color changing lights. And of course you can only use their software and interface to run the dimmers.
  • by ajs318 ( 655362 ) <sd_resp2@earthsh[ ] ['od.' in gap]> on Friday February 08, 2008 @06:40AM (#22346656)

    Product unreliability ordinarily doesn't benefit manufacturers, because most consumers are smart enough not to buy the same make next time; but the situation is inverted when the manufacturer of the unreliable products holds a monopoly. And sometimes it doesn't even need to be a full monopoly: you can have several players ostensibly competing in a free market. But that freedom is often just an illusion.

    Think about it: If John Thomas's Panasonic stereo breaks, and he already has lots of CDs, he might buy a Philips next time -- after all, it will plug into the same mains socket and play all the same discs. If John Thomas's Glow-worm boiler packs up in the middle of winter, he might replace it with a Worcester or Baxi boiler -- which will use the same gas and electricity, and plumb in just fine to his existing radiators and hot water system. If John Thomas's Ford Focus breaks down one time too many, he might trade it in for a Vauxhall Astra -- it will use the same fuel and can be driven on the same roads.

    But if John Thomas's Wii breaks, and he already owns several Wii games, he has precious little choice but to buy another one from Nintendo. The games may well have cost more than the console -- it would be a waste not to have anything on which to play them.

    Despite outward appearances, Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft aren't really competing in a free market; because their products are not interchangeable in practice -- unlike CD players, gas boilers or cars. Once you have invested in a game on one platform, it can only be used on that platform -- you can't replace your Wii with a PS3 and take your games across. And if you ask the vendors to replace your Wii games with PS3 equivalents, they'll laugh at you. (A store will probably exchange a few unopened games bought in ignorance as a gift for someone who has a different console than you thought; but even then it's technically ex gratia, not a statutory right.)

    And if John Thomas's copy of Microsoft Word pisses him off one time too many, and he has many documents already in .doc format that he needs to be able to access, he can't replace it with anything else and still be sure that his documents will render correctly. Even worse, if his sister Fanny buys a brand new computer that comes with a brand new version of Word, John's copy now most probably won't be able to read documents saved by Fanny in future (unless she saves them as an older version, which is deliberately made awkward and throws up dire warnings) -- so he is all but forced to buy his own new copy of Microsoft Word.

Karl's version of Parkinson's Law: Work expands to exceed the time alloted it.