ISV: Independent of what?

The term ISV (Independent Software Vendor) is a funny one -- and it raises the question, independent of what?

I've seen three different answers to this:

  1. Financially independent
  2. Independent of Microsoft (or other large software vendor)
  3. Independent from any particular hardware manufacturer

I suspect the term has its roots in the third meaning -- independence from a hardware vendor -- as it recalls a time when most software was provided as a 'value added' component to the expensive, proprietary computers of the day.

But it's still an ironic and patronising term -- because an ISV is far from Independent.

If we had complete "financial independence" then we'd be able to give our software away, rather than selling it.

An ISV who makes software for Microsoft's operating systems (like, say... us) is naturally very dependent on the ongoing success of Microsoft.

Equally, an ISV who targets a specific platform -- Java, for example -- is dependent on that platform.

So the point is that when you strike out to build an ISV -- you might feel like an explorer, boldly going alone into the wilderness. But really you're a specialist insect, targeting in on a niche software habitat, created in part by large platform vendors (whether they're hardware vendors, operating systems, platforms like Java, ERPs like SAP, or other assorted trouble makers). And you probably also depend on specific 'vertical industries', on current social, economic and technological conditions... all sorts of phenomena which are utterly outside your control.

It's a shaky ecological niche you're headed for. Don't get zealous. Don't get attached, bambi. You can't control the niche you're in much more than an insect can control the elephant he's biting. But before you get stuck on any one elephant, you can be careful about choosing where to sink your teeth.

Bite wisely.


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(By the way, I read every comment and often respond.)

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