According to John Del Vecchio writing for Fool.com, a value chain is "a string of companies working together to satisfy market demands." The value chain typically consists of one or a few primary value (product or service) suppliers and many other suppliers that add on to the value that is ultimately presented to the buying public.
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Microsoft and its Windows operating systems, the nucleus of the personal computer desktop for which much business software is developed, is often cited as a prime example of a company and product that drives a value chain. The businesses who buy personal computer software may spend far more on the add-on software than on the essential operating system that is the de facto standard for running the software. To the extent that companies standardize on Windows, Microsoft is said to control a value chain. This particular value chain was reported in a McKinsey study to be worth $383 billion in 1998. Although Microsoft's share of the value chain was reported to be only 4% of the total, that was still $15.3 billion.
A company that develops a product or service that engenders a value chain by providing a platform for other companies is considered more likely to increase its market share than a company that tries to provide the entire value chain on its own.