Platform, ecosystem, environment: people selling technology often use these words.
Almost everything in the tech world is one of the three.
Some are all three. Hence: the Windows platform; Windows ecosystem and Windows environment. Likewise Apple, Android, AWS and so on.
The words are a problem because they are non-specific, even ambiguous. They rarely help good communication.
Often you can replace one of these words with thing and the meaning doesn’t change.
Or you can remove the word altogether. Usually Windows, Apple and Android are good enough descriptions in their own right for most conversations.
The other problem is that the words are used interchangeably. People often talk about the Windows platform when they mean the ecosystem.
There are times when you can’t avoid using platform or ecosystem. That’s not true with environment, the word is always vague or unnecessary.
Ben Thompson offers great definitions of platform and ecosystem in The Funnel Framework:
A platform is something that can be built upon. In the case of Windows, the operating system had (has) an API that allowed 3rd-party programs to run on it. The primary benefit that this provided to Microsoft was a powerful two-sided network: developers built on Windows, which attracted users (primarily businesses) to the platform, which in turn drew still more developers. Over time this network effect resulted in a powerful lock-in: both developers and users were invested in the various programs that ran their businesses, which meant Microsoft could effectively charge rent on every computer sold in the world.
An ecosystem is a web of mutually beneficial relationships that enhances the value of all of the participants. This is a more under-appreciated aspect of Microsoft’s dominance: there were massive sectors of the industry built up specifically to support Windows, including value-added resellers, large consultancies, and internal IT departments. In fact, IDC has claimed that for every $1 Microsoft made in sales, partner companies made $8.70. Indeed, ecosystem lock-in is arguably even more powerful than platform lock-in: not only is there a sunk-cost aspect, but also a whole lot more money and people pushing to keep things exactly the way they are.
Thompson then goes on to discuss why platforms and ecosystems are no longer as important as they were in the Windows era. His point is that in the past owning the platform and ecosystem was the key to sales success, today being the best product or service for a consumer’s needs is more important.
And that is great news for users.