Sunday, May 10, 2009

When a Standard is not a Standard

IBM Microelectronics was confident that they were well on their way to supplanting Texas Instruments as the top 1394 silicon supplier.  TI was first to market with prototype chips and continued to maintained a clear lead over all competitors with production silicon.  Camcorders were hitting the market with TI 1394 silicon as well as a handful of computers.  

IBM discovered a little secret about their competitor's products.  TI was using 1394 silicon designs licensed from Apple Computer.  In an effort to maintain their lead, TI was racing to release production silicon before the 1394 standard was even final.  They’d been assured by Apple that the 1394 standard would match the Apple silicon design exactly.  However, in the final stages of the standards process, subtle changes were added.  Once 1394-1995 was finally released, the TI silicon had a subtle bug in it, making it inconsistent with the IEEE standard. 

IBM, lagging behind TI, was able to design a chip that matched the standard exactly.  Confident that this would give them a huge advantage over TI, IBM promoted their silicon as the only silicon compliant to the IEEE 1394-1995 standard.  However, TI silicon was already in over 70% of the camcorders in the market.  What came to be known as “The TI Bug” caused intermittent problems when connected to a system using the IBM 1394 silicon. The ability to work with 70% of the products in the market was much more important to product managers than adherence to the IEEE standard.  This was an easy choice in TI's  favor and IBM was unable to win any significant designs.  

The “TI Bug” had become the industry standard.

In 2000, IBM Microelectronics exited the 1394 semiconductor market, leaving TI a near monopoly.

Industry accusations were levied against TI, accusing them of intentionally adding this small bug to their silicon.  In response to these accusations, the 1394 Business Development Manager at TI stated, “I only wish I’d been that smart.”

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