A Comparison of PC Standard Switching Decisions by U.S. and Japanese Computer Users


Joel West
Doctor of Philosophy in Management
University of California, Irvine, September 2000
Professors John L. Graham and John L. King, Co-chairs

Economics research on product compatibility standards has focused on two key areas: positive network externalities provided by complementary assets and asymmetric switching costs that constrain future product replacement decisions. This research makes an unambiguous prediction that a losing standard is doomed to become “another Betamax,” although some questions have been raised about the supporting evidence.

This dissertation looked at one particular standards competition assumed to follow the “Betamax” pattern, that of personal computer operating systems, specifically Windows vs. Macintosh. After reviewing the development of hardware and software standards in the PC industry, it summarizes the various factors behind the success and subsequent decline of Apple Computer and its Macintosh computer architecture. This includes an examination of both the network externalities hypothesis (Apple’s failure to license its architecture) as well as alternate explanations centering on various implementation errors.

The dissertation then recounts the empirical field research in the U.S. and Japan among existing Macintosh owners during 1997 and 1998, when many were deciding whether to switch to Windows. The exploratory research included user interviews, trade show intercept surveys and survey pretests.

From this exploratory research, a mail survey was developed which measured three broad categories of competing explanations for switching intentions: network externalities, switching costs, and owner loyalty (operationalized as psychological involvement). This survey was mailed to 2,000 existing Macintosh users in the U.S. and Japan, and 1,212 of the surveys were returned.

A logit analysis was performed for respondents who had owned a Macintosh at home and planned to buy another computer in the next 12 months. It found that two measures of psychological involvement predicted switching in both countries, while separate measures of switching costs were significant in Japan and the U.S. Although no main effect was hypothesized, expertise also predicted switching in both countries. Meanwhile, no measure of network effects was effective in predicting intentions in both countries.

The results are consistent with West’s (1999) assertion that theories based on VCR usage patterns are not generalizable to standardized products which do not require the consumption of an ongoing stream of complementary assets.

Available from ProQuest Information and Learning (née University Microfilms), order number 9988292

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