As a former marketing guy, I’m sensitive to meaningless descriptors that obfuscate the value a product brings to a customer. Seeing Larry Walsh’s piece on next generation firewalls versus UTM got my blood boiling because it’s such a meaningless argument. It’s time we slay the entire concept of ‘next generation’ anything.

Hard to find the right place for this... That’s right, I’m saying it. The concept of a next generation is a load of crap. The vendor community has taken to calling incremental iterations ‘next generation’ because they can’t think of a real reason customers should upgrade their gear. Maybe the new box is faster, so the 2% of the users out there actually maxing out their gear get some relief. Maybe it’s a little more functional or adds a bit more device support. Again, this hardly ever provides enough value to warrant an upgrade. But time and time again, we hear about next generation this or next generation that. It makes me want to hurl.

I guess we can thank the folks at Microsoft, who perfected the art of forced upgrades with little to no value-add. Even today continue to load into office suites feature after feature that we don’t need. If you don’t believe me, open up that old version of Word 2003 and it’ll work just fine.

Let’s consider the idea of the “next generation firewall,” which I highlighted in last week’s Incite with announcements from McAfee and SonicWall. Basically SonicWall’s is bigger and McAfee’s does more with applications. I would posit neither of these capabilities are unique in the industry, nor are they disruptive in any way. Which is the point. To me, ‘next generation’ means disruption of the status quo. You could make the case that disrupted the existing CRM market with an online context for the application. A little closer to home, you could say the application white listing guys are poised to disrupt the endpoint security agent. That’s if they overcome the perception that the technology screws up the user experience. For these kinds of examples, I’m OK with ‘next generation’ for true disruption.

But here’s the real problem, at least in the security space: End users are numb. They hear ‘next generation’ puffery from vendors and they shut down. Remember, end users don’t care whether the technology is first, second, third, or tenth generation. They care whether a vendor can solve the problem.

What example(s) do we have of a ‘next generation’ product/category really being ‘next generation’? Right, not too many. We can peek into the library and crack open the Innovator’s Dilemma again. The next generation usually emerges from below (kind of like UTM) targeting a smaller market segment with similar capabilities delivered at a much better price point. Eventually the products get functional enough to displace enterprise products, and that is your next generation.

Riddle me this, Batman, what am I missing here? And all you marketing folks lurking (I know you’re out there), tell me why you continue to stand on the crutch of ‘next generation’, as opposed to figuring out what is important to end users. I’d really like to know.

Photo credit: “BPL’s Project Next Generation” originally uploaded by The Shifted Librarian