Failing to Disrupt: The case of the Network Computer

International Journal of Technology Intelligence and Planning, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 6-23

Posted: 5 Jul 2011

See all articles by Simon Ford

Simon Ford

University of Cambridge - Centre for Technology Management

Elizabeth W. Garnsey

University of Cambridge - Judge Business School

Date Written: January 1, 2007

Abstract

In 1995, the future of home computing was in the balance. The dominant technology, the PC, was threatened by the entry of a potentially disruptive technology, the Network Computer (NC). Yet in 2005 almost 200 million PCs were sold globally and the pioneering NC was not to be seen. In this paper we take a co-evolutionary view of the development and attempted diffusion of the NC. We observe that the lack of technological and market complementarities were central to its failure, restricting the adoption of the NC and the growth of its business ecosystem. In competition with the significantly more mature PC ecosystem, in which these complementarities were highly evolved, the NC failed to generate the expectation that it was a viable proposition. This episode provides insight into the difficulties facing new entrants with potentially disruptive technologies and shows why, nevertheless, incumbent technologies that initially overcome such challenges may remain under longer term threat.

Keywords: technological co-evolution, innovation, business ecosystems, complementarities, failure, network computer, personal computers, PCs, networking, new technologies, dominant technologies, technology adoption

JEL Classification: L63, M13, O32, O33

Suggested Citation

Ford, Simon and Garnsey, Elizabeth W., Failing to Disrupt: The case of the Network Computer (January 1, 2007). International Journal of Technology Intelligence and Planning, Vol. 3, No. 1, pp. 6-23, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1879131

Simon Ford (Contact Author)

University of Cambridge - Centre for Technology Management ( email )

Alan Reece Building
17 Charles Babbage Road
Cambridge, CB3 0FS
United Kingdom
+44(0)1223 766776 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.ifm.eng.cam.ac.uk/people/sjf39/

Elizabeth W. Garnsey

University of Cambridge - Judge Business School ( email )

Trumpington Street
Cambridge, CB2 1AG
United Kingdom
+44 (0) 1223 338183 (Phone)

HOME PAGE: http://www.jims.cam.ac.uk/people/faculty/garnseye.html

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