Lock in is a term that denotes where a customer is dependent on a vendor for products and services and cannot move to another vendor without substantial switching costs, real and/or perceived. Lock in is exercised in any and every kind of product for better profits by extending the lock-in cycle by trapping the customer in a deep net of expenses the are not evidently clear in the first transaction. So, the computer and software market is also not free from the lock-in phenomena. The question here is lock-in can be the survival kit for the sellers but to what extent can they exploit the buyers?
Microsoft the software giant as everyone knows it as, is undoubtedly one of the best practitioners of lock-in to grip its customers. Its software carries a high level of vendor lock-in, based on its extensive set of proprietary Application Programming Interface (API). Their degree of lock-in combined with their market share has made them subject to a number of antitrust lawsuits. Without making it technical, if you are using a windows operating system, you further use Microsoft’s Office in addition to it you tend to use the Microsoft’s mail client. If you are a web developer they even provide MS Frontpage, you have visual basic for programming and the recent dot net also has been incorporated in Microsoft’s products. There by, if you get fully dependent on Microsoft and say as they are fully proprietary and without doubts profit oriented, they try to charge even for running their application then one will have no place to hide!
Another fact to consider is, Microsoft’s application software also exhibits lock-in through the use of proprietary file formats. Microsoft Word and Microsoft Outlook both, for example, use proprietary datastore files and interfaces which are impossible to read without being parsed, and such parsers may in turn not be able to exist legally without performing reverse engineering. For example, to access data contained in Outlook’s ‘.PST’ files, the application must process the request through Outlook instead of directly handling the file. Present versions of Microsoft Word have introduced a new more open format MS-OOXML. This may make it easier for competitors to write documents compatible with Microsoft Office in the future by reducing lock-in, but as a competitor to the OpenDocument format, it may instead increase lock-in through an Embrace, extend and extinguish effect. Thus, how can we ensure that Microsoft will not charge us one day even for opening their file format. As only they know how to open the files we may be in a risk of paying them just to view our files we ourselves made.
All in all, I’m not trying to prove Microsoft bad but we should ourselves be aware of the hard possibilities in future. It may be their way to carry on their business but we should also be aware of the alternative ways rather than getting firmly locked in with a sole vendor. The intellectual property rights will make sure that we have to pay what the giant asks for in the future, therefore act now to be safe later.
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