A relentless neophilia is Silicon Valley's signature characteristic. One must have a new iPhone, a new Twitter, a new electric car. You're either in beta or in the grave. That's why I'm intrigued by two decisions by Dell and Sony. Dell has figured out a way to wriggle around Microsoft's licensing rules and still sell its discontinued Windows XP operating system. Sony, meanwhile, is profitably selling its nine-year-old PlayStation 2 videogame console in markets like India. This just isn't done.
And yet it is done, and profitably so. Sony's PlayStation 3 is expensive precisely because it uses new chips and optical drives whose manufacturing processes have yet to be refined. Moore's law has made the old silicon parts in a PS2 dirt-cheap; meanwhile, videogame studios continue to churn out games for it, making it an entertainment bargain.
Windows XP, meanwhile, has been relentlessly tested by consumers, businesses, and hackers; it is now reasonably bug-proof, reasonably easy to use, and ubiquitous. Windows Vista, by contrast, is slow, unpredictable, and uncertainly secure. (Microsoft claims Vista is safer, but any security expert will tell you that security holes only reveal themselves over time.) Microsoft perhaps recognizes this, since it's continuing to sell Windows XP in some poorer countries.
So far, Sony and Microsoft are focusing their selling of the old in developing markets. But why not sell the old stuff everywhere, instead of forcing the likes of Dell to jump through hoops to offer it to willing customers? That's exactly what Nintendo has done with the Wii. Essentially a repackaged GameCube with a motion-sensitive controller, the Wii has eviscerated Sony's overexpensive PlayStation 3. It's a classic triumph of the old.
The chief lesson Silicon Valley has taken from Moore's law is that new technology will always be better. Hence the relentless pursuit of the new. But Moore equally tells us that old technology will always be cheaper. Someone's going to figure out how to sell the old stuff at a profit. Why not have it be you?