Software: There's a World of Opportunity

Article excerpt

The United States has been called the Land of Opportunity, and when it comes to software, it's been true.

You can see it in the statistics. During the past decade, computer software has been the fastest-growing major industry in the United States, expanding nearly 10 times faster than the rest of the economy.

Three-quarters of world sales of prepackaged software, such as word processors and PC games, come from the U.S.

But there is no guarantee that this lead will last.

Software companies everywhere have the opportunity to close much of the gap with the United States as the market becomes more global.

The personal-computer software revolution is a tribute to the free-market system. It was sparked initially by the American entrepreneurial spirit.

North America's success in software was not the fruit of superior talent. Excellence is found everywhere. American engineers, for example, aren't better than engineers from other countries.

U.S. success was not sparked by huge corporate investments. The microcomputer software industry wasn't a spinoff of the space program or the defense industry. Frankly, no one thought software was all that important.

U.S. success in software didn't result from deliberate government policies. There weren't special tax credits. There weren't regulations aimed at managing competition or imposing standards. This proved to be fortunate. Committees and regulators can't make decisions as effectively as a truly competitive marketplace.

What the U.S. government did is the thing that mattered most: protect intellectual property rights. The PC software industry never could have emerged from a country that tolerated the widespread theft of copyrighted material.

Everything the nascent software industry needed to get started was available in the fabric of American values and institutions.

Americans are gamblers. Venture capitalists lay down millions of dollars on long shots. My friend Craig McCaw created a notion in the financial markets that signing up a cellular subscriber was worth a certain amount of money. McCaw Cellular lost money year after year on an accounting basis, but as the number of subscribers soared Craig attracted huge investments and in the end sold the company for billions of dollars to AT T.

Americans also gamble with their careers. Talented people quit secure jobs to pursue visions or join tiny companies with big ideas. American culture celebrates effort even when it ends in defeat. The attitude toward failure is, "Try again."

Gutsy attitudes like these helped ignite the market for personal computer software. A growing community of really demanding consumers fanned the flames. …