on Feb 10, 2006
“Let’s be fair. Whether it’s five, 10, 15, 20 years from now, the concept of driving to the store to buy a plastic disc with data on it and driving back and popping it in the drive will be ridiculous. We’ll tell our grandchildren that and they’ll laugh at us.”
Larry Ellison of Oracle fame, made the same argument about ten years ago.
“I hate the PC with a passion. Me going down to the store and buying Windows 95, I’ve got to get into my car drive down to a store buy a cardboard box full of bits you know encoded on a piece of plastic CDROM and you bring it home and read a manual install this thing – you must be kidding you know, put the stuff on the net – it’s bits, don’t put bits in cardboard, cardboard in trucks, trucks to stores, me go to the store, you know, pick the stuff out, it’s insane. OK I love the Internet – I want information you know it flows across the wire.”
I predict that in ten years people will still be predicting this box-free future, and it won’t be any closer. Universal digital delivery – which is what you need if you want to get rid of the boxes in stores – won’t happen until some new uber-DRM scheme comes along to thwart piracy, which doesn’t seem likely. (Note: When I say you need DRM, I mean publishers will insist on strong DRM. Obviously consumers would rather do without it.) But if it did, you’d still need a way to get content to laptops and other machines without universal high-speed access. But even when these issues are overcome, the process of buying some sort of physical media is NEVER going to go away.
When people pay money for something, they like to be able to hold the thing and say “I own this”. The same is true of music. People want the jewel case with the nice artwork and a shiney disc. How often have you been in the store and seen people just browsing the shelf, reading the boxes and looking for something new? There is something going on here that is more than just buying data. Something that won’t happen if you don’t have boxes in stores. Even if discs went away, and all content came over the net, you STILL wouldn’t be rid of boxes in stores, because those boxes turn into impulse purchases. People would still be able to impulse-buy at the store and take the box home, where they would then download their new thing.
Moore may be right about one thing, though. Our grandkids may well laugh at us. They will see predictions like the one in his article and laugh in the same way we laugh at the jetpacks-and-flying-cars future of the past.
Shamus Young is an old-school OpenGL programmer, author, and composer. He runs this site and if anything is broken you should probably blame him.