on Proprietary versus Standard

Some people (not me, of course) download songs from Apple’s iTunes, immediately burn them to disc, and then reload them from disc to remove the Digital Rights Management protection (aka DRM). Newer albums on Apple’s site come in “iTunes Plus” with the DRM protection removed yet they are still in Apple’s proprietary format.

Meanwhile over at Amazon, songs are available for the same 99 cents but in MP3 format.

As much as I value the elegant interfaces of iTunes Music Store to iTunes client to my iPod, buying MP3s from Amazon is almost as seamless. You can buy an album (such as Good and Reckless and True by The Alternate Routes) and the files are downloaded and loaded directly into iTunes. Pretty straightforward too—without the pain of converting from a proprietary format to standard.

In The Innovators Solution, Clayton Christenson argues that you must switch from proprietary to standard when “good enough” becomes available. For instance, Apple should have licensed the Mac OS when Windows 1.0 became available and TiVo should have licensed its superior software once Comcast started offering a DVR. In this case, at least for me, the effort of downloading new tunes from Amazon to my iPod is now good enough and Apple’s proprietary file format is no longer acceptable.

Sure, Apple has to deal with the idiots at the various record labels with their stupidity about DRM, but once allowed to offer unprotected music, Apple should offer an industry standard instead of their own proprietary format.

What non-standard formats are you imposing on your customers? A proprietary database? An in-house report format? An internal scripting capability that is “better” than whatever is out there?

One key aspect of being tuned in to your customers is to see your offering from their viewpoint.

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson

Steve Johnson was a founding instructor at Pragmatic Institute, a role he held for more than 15 years before he left to start Under10 Playbook. In his return to Pragmatic Institute, Steve supports the complete learning path for product teams, ensuring they are fully armed for success. 

Over the course of his career, Steve has helped thousands of companies and tens of thousands of product professionals implement product management processes. He has worked in the high-tech arena since 1981, rising through the ranks from product manager to chief marketing officer. Steve has experience in technical, sales and marketing management positions at companies that specialize in both hardware and software. In addition, he is an author, speaker and advisor on product strategy and product management.


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