Thursday, September 20, 2007
I'm experiencing immense amounts of Schadenfreude. Normally, I feel a lot of sympathy and a bit of empathy for those who have misfortune visited upon them. But, not today, not earlier this week and certainly not tomorrow for SCO. I am gleeful about SCO's misfortunes of late.
For those of you who haven't heard, SCO has filed for bankruptcy. I was immediately reminded of the Wizard of Oz film and the singing of "Ding Dong! The Witch Is Dead." Of course, while too much schadenfreude is probably not good for one's immortal soul I'm going to continue to take pleasure in this particular delight just a bit longer.
On the golf course we use the phrase, "There's a lot of golf left." It means that no matter how well ahead one is there are still plenty of opportunities to derail the progress. There's still a lot of golf left to play with SCO but we're certainly nearing the end of this particular disaster.
Some of the articles are pretty funny such as this one that says that SCO blames Linux for their failure. What's particularly ironic about this particular article is that I thought that SCO was going to be a Linux company before their management team completely screwed up. I remember meeting with Darl and company at one of their customer meetings years ago and working with them to help make SCO a successful Linux company. Once they turned their back on Linux and made their sensationalized allegations they just couldn't understand why no one wanted to do business with them. They couldn't understand why those of us committed to open-source and Linux wouldn't return their phone calls.
Sheer idiocy is never easy to watch. One feels embarassed and wants to turn away when witnessing fellow humans make asses of themselves.
SCO's board chose to keep Darl and the other leaders who chose this disastrous strategy. As a result, the board, the managers and the shareholders deserve all that they get which, hopefully, will be nothing.
I guess I'm in a movie kind of mood but I'm also reminded of the opening to Trainspotting. The opening narrative sets the stage for the entire movie as Mark "Rent-Boy" Renton describes his reasons for choosing heroin instead of life.
Darl's opening narrative could be, "Choose success. Choose a business plan. Choose a top team. Choose a passion. Choose good relations, low costs and a future for my employees. Choose a starter product with a future. Choose a big idea with a range of options. Choose products with matching support. Choose happy customers and building a stellar reputation. Choose a future based on a sound foundation...But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose success. I chose something else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got Boies, Schiller & Flexner?"
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
Friday, June 22, 2007
Generally, most successful companies are formed on doing something different and often revolutionary. It’s a very difficult and arduous task to form a new company. It’s even more difficult to found a successful company. The most successful companies out there, especially in the IT industry, were founded on revolutionary thoughts. The leadership within these companies was singular in their purpose of doing something different, something provocative and something revolutionary. These leaders wanted to change the world.
In order to be successful these leaders had to have the passion and drive to convince everyone around them that they were on the right track. They had to fight the status-quo and articulate a vision that others were willing to follow. The successful ones had to fight tooth-and-nail to make sure everything worked appropriately. It was never enough to have a good product, that good product had to be combined with business savvy, insight and fearlessness.
Once successful, the enterprise becomes too large for any one individual to drive and control. The leaders need to bring in others. Here’s where the trouble begins. Does the leadership that has created a successful franchise instill the same sense of purpose and mission in the new employees or do they, instead, bring in functional personnel.
At some point, though, there is a critical mass that is reached where it is no longer possible to instill the same sense of purpose and mission. They no longer have a choice and they can only bring in purely functional personnel.
For the new employee their mission is no longer to change the world with a new software product or model, their mission is to collect license fees. Someone else’s mission is license enforcement and someone else’s is to explain why licenses are important. It is likely that no one remembers the reason the licenses were initially created or the reason the business came into existence or the revolution the original leader was fomenting.
Ultimately, the leader steps aside and the second generation takes over. At this point the enterprise is truly in trouble. There is no institutional passion driving sound business objectives because the business objectives are divorced from the original mission. The business objectives are disembodied activities headed by individuals with ridiculous titles such as Chief of Licensing or Director of Pricing.
These rogue coalitions are doomed to failure. Without the passion, drive and direction the individuals become nameless, faceless drones enforcing licenses for which the individual has no context in which to understand their own, broader purpose.
How can such a company survive? A company that enforces licensing terms because they’ve always enforced such terms, not because they make any sense, is a company doomed.
When the sum of the parts doesn’t equal the original mission the company can either fail or decide to no longer be revolutionary and to just execute the individual missions such as license enforcement. There are companies at this juncture today, the problem is most don’t yet know it.
Thursday, June 21, 2007
Belated happy father's day, dad.
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
A rogue coalition is one that has come to power and has the ability to redefine proper behavior, morés and expectations. Of these characteristics, expectations is probably the most important. If one only expects gruel for dinner then gruel with sugar on top may be seen as a particularly yummy concoction.
Another defining characteristic of a rogue coalition is its ability to appear to be normal and part of the natural order. Many times, rogue coalitions come about as part of some other revolution, righting something that has gone desperately wrong and needs to be fixed.
Rogue coalitions come into power and attempt, at all cost, to retain that power. What starts as a revolution becomes a strategy to protect the revolutionists.
Are Microsoft and the other closed-source vendors nothing more than rogue coalitions? Are these institutions that are unable to see the furor they create that pre-sages the revolutions that will overthrow their business models? Can they be that blind to history?
Or is it more Machiavellian than that? Do the Microsofts of the world recognize that their business models are ultimately doomed and they’re simply attempting to extract the most they can before being forced to change?
I think it’s the former. I believe that as companies like Microsoft start to be managed by their second generation leaders they lose sight of the revolution they themselves fomented in the previous generation. They lose sight of the fact that ongoing change is critical to success and get lost in preserving business models that are no longer appropriate.
I believe that Microsoft and other closed-source vendors are nothing more than rogue coalitions that are destined to either change their business models or fall by the wayside.
It doesn’t matter to me whether Microsoft fails or evolves because all rogue coalitions are short-lived. This one just can’t be short enough for me.
Sunday, June 17, 2007
I'm back, well almost. I've been in Arizona the past few weeks and in Utah the past week or so at Lake Powell. Lake Powell is a fantastic place and one of the best things about it is the complete lack of phone, radio, internet and any other form of communication. We, meaning 12 family members, spent the week on a houseboat in close quarters enjoying a lot of nothing-time. The scenic, peaceful setting is nothing short of amazing.
I wrote a few blogs while I was gone and need to upload them, mostly about transparency, intellectual property/puffery and honesty in business models.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Microsoft's Sam Ramji seems to be claiming fiduciary duty to their shareholders as one of the reasons they claim the patent infringements by open-source while at the same time refusing to identify those very same patents. Fiduciary duty is an interesting claim to be making. I claim that Microsoft's actions are in direct contradiction to their fiduciary duty rather than in support.
First, let's understand that Microsoft's sole duty is the satisfaction of their shareholders. Generally speaking, any business that wants to satisfy their shareholders must adhere to applicable laws, build a satisfied customer base, build successful strategies for the future and behave with some semblance of good manners. However, none of these are necessary to satisfy shareholders. While I think all of these are necessary for a long-term business, I could imagine a situation where customer satisfaction and repeat business was not in the best interest of the shareholder.
But let's imagine for a moment that Microsoft's shareholders wish to build a long-term, sustainable business model and, in order to achieve that goal, it is necessary to have an expanding base of satisfied customers.
I would argue that Microsoft's actions regarding their patent claims are in direct contradiction to those goals.
Imagine if, at Microsoft's next shareholder meeting, they said, "Rather than providing new innovation in the market for our consumers and potential consumers, we're going to stifle innovation at every opportunity. We're not going to innovate our business model either. Instead, we're going to use our size to force as many companies out of the software market as possible. We're going to use our patent portfolio to intimidate anyone who dares to enter our market. Additionally, we intend to spend as much money as possible to preserve our existing business franchises rather than explore new ones."
The alternative statement could be, "Rather than rely solely on the successful franchise we've already built we will be spending our resources to invent new products, new capabilities and new business models. We intend to out-innovate any potential competitors and run faster than anyone else can run. No one will be able to keep up with us because we have the resources to invest like no one else."
Perhaps the reality is that Microsoft realizes they are structurally incapable of innovating and must rely on the first option, what I refer to as the buggy-whip strategy - preserve the existing business at all cost.
As an investor I would never invest in a preservationist company and will always seek the innovators for my investment dollars. Without the context of Microsoft's business strategy, preservationist or innovator, it's impossible to judge Sam's claim about their fiduciary duty.
It is truly difficult for me to take Microsoft seriously. I meet with executives every day who truly believe that with a very small investment they can change the world. I see from Microsoft that with their billions of dollars they have to resort to seemingly empty threats to keep those very same changes at bay. That's just pathetic.
Thursday, May 17, 2007
I have the deepest respect for inventors. My father has a patent in his name and I've always thought of him as mechanically imaginative; with the type of imagination that should be rewarded.
The United States and many other countries, in an effort to promote inventiveness and innovation, have established patent systems designed to encourage and reward creative imagination. The key aspect of these patent systems, at least to a lay person such as myself, has been to identify and reward original and non-obvious inventions. Inventions that would not have come into existence without the hard work and dedication of the inventor should be rewarded.
I firmly believe this is a great idea. I'd love to have the innovative imagination to create something uniquely beneficial to society. People speak of having a million dollar idea by inventing a great new product. As a society, we created entire companies and industries around inventiveness, imagination and innovation.
And then, it started to come crashing down around us. It started with software patents but it won't end there. The most difficult thing with software patents is that most software developers recognize that many software patents reward obvious, trivial and incremental improvements to the existing state-of-the-art. Many of us in the software world find it incomprehensible that one-click shopping gets a patent or the way a menu animation unfolds gets "intellectual property" protection.
Combine these issues in the software world with the insanity of digital rights management (DRM), RIAA lawsuits, the obstruction of HDTV innovation through forced DRM in the interconnects and we get that which no legal system can survive - disrespect.
Laws in a civilized society only work when society respects the laws. The abuse the alleged owners of intellectual property foist upon us as consumers of their products will result in the inevitable, ultimate "dissing" of the owners and their supposed property.
Microsoft's latest salvo in this battle is likely the first shot in the latest battle over intellectual property. Microsoft claims 235 violated patents but is unwilling, unable or simply afraid to articulate the specific claims. Microsoft's strategy appears to be another incarnation of the "vig" that needs to be paid to the house. They would rather threaten with massive numbers of patents than to actually enforce any particular patent.
Will industry, or society or we as individuals allow this shake-down to occur? I can't imagine any of us on the consumer side willing to pay any vig because we might be using their intellectual property. I want to know if I'm misappropriating someone else's property and, if I am, then I'm willing to pay or to stop using it once I have enough information to make a decision.
My biggest fear, though, isn't that we will be stuck paying Microsoft's vig, as unpleasant as that would be. My biggest fear is that the disrespect that the Microsofts of the world engender will ultimately eliminate a perfectly valid method of rewarding innovation.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
I had thought about the number of open-source licenses out there and I've written about it before, there are more than the nine highlighted by the anonymous post. You can read about Microsoft's attempts to bring standardization to their own licensing model here.
The point, however, is that there are far fewer open-source licenses than there are Microsoft standard licenses. More importantly, all the closed-source vendors will negotiate individual terms of their licenses with their customers. It is not unusual for an individual customer to have multiple instantiations of a single license with a particular vendor. The number of closed-source licenses any particular closed-source vendor will have is indeterminate as each one is individually captured in a unique sales contract.
There have been many people complaining about the number of open-source licenses that exist. I favor license simplification and don't want to see a wild proliferation of open-source licenses either.
Don't overlook one of the major benefits of open-source software - license standardization. This is accomplished precisely because an open-source license is non-negotiable. The infinitely negotiable closed-source licenses are the main reason the closed-source companies need licensing chiefs.
Monday, May 14, 2007
Chief of what? Chief of Licensing. What? Licensing! Huh? LICENSING!
O.K., how about finishing this one, how many chiefs does it take to write a bad license?
Let's imagine the conversation:
Customer: I want to use my super-powerful computer to help me be more efficient.
Microsoft: Great, first you need to speak with our chief of licensing.
Microsoft: He'll help make sure you understand the terms of our licenses so you don't run afoul.
Customer: What's afoul?
Customer: I can't run it?
Microsoft: It violates at least 235 of our patents.
Customer: What patents.
Microsoft: That's a secret.
Customer: But I can't run it.
Microsoft: Well you can, if you pay us.
Customer: Oh, it's Microsoft software?
Microsoft: Not exactly, but our chief of licensing can help you understand it.
Customer: Understand the secrets?
Microsoft: Not the secrets, never the secrets, just how much you have to pay to run our software or the open-source software.
Customer: But what am I paying for?
Microsoft: Oh, well, that, it's a secret.
Any company that needs a chief of licensing has overly complicated licensing terms. Ask your open-source vendors about their chief of licensing, they'll most likely reply, "Chief of what?"
I remember having many conversations with others about the "sanity" of being so open. There were many people who felt that being secret was the way to go. I always felt this was nonsense. There was nothing more powerful than saying what you were going to do and doing it. After a while others understood that what you said was valuable because it was representative of what you were going to do.
This is why I keep pushing transparency and am so strongly opposed to obliqueness and opaqueness. I harbor an almost instinctual distrust of those who maintain secrets about their business plans. If the secretive were so confident in their business plans then they would gladly share them knowing that no one could stop them from being successful or beating them to the punch.
Yet, here we are with one of the most powerful companies on the planet apparently afraid to take on the open-source world in a direct way. Instead of identifying the patents that have allegedly been violated Microsoft seeks to hide in the shadows. I would argue that Microsoft does not have a sound strategy. If their strategy is so strong then what do they fear?
I believe they fear that their patents are unenforceable and probably a bit farcicle. Microsoft could stand up and say, "Here's a patent you've infringed. We worked hard to invent this clever, neat elegant solution to a difficult problem and you are stealing from us. This is the only way to solve this problem and we are confident that every court in the land will agree with us. Therefore, either stop infringing or pay us."
However, we see no such confidence from Microsoft. What does Microsoft fear more than open-source? I believe they fear what all little bullies fear - of being found out. There is no set of ingenious, clever, elegant solutions that they've invented for all the world to admire. There's nothing but noise, bluster and shadowy skullduggery.
Microsoft fears transparency. They fear the light. We all owe it to ourselves to shine our lights as strongly and as directly as possible.
The truth never fears transparency, why then does Microsoft?
Jonathan Swift wrote the quote that serves as the epigraph for A Confederacy, "When a true genius appears in the world, you may know him by this sign, that the dunces are all in confederacy against him."
Be forewarned, this one is nothing but rant, rant, rant with a little ranting thrown in.
First, lets start with Microsoft's general counsel and their licensing chief sitting down with Fortune magazine and claiming that open-source software violates at least 235 Microsoft patents. O.K., Microsoft, you've obviously counted them, they're already patents and, therefore, have the details published, how about listing them and where they're violated so they can be fixed? Or, is this more about FUD and confusing the market than it is about clarity and intellectual property? Perhaps no patents are violated. Perhaps the patents themselves are invalid and, therefore, can't be violated. By the way, Microsoft, if you need a licensing chief then you've probably gone way too far down the wrong road.
Transparency, transparency, and more transparency. If you're so certain about the violations, publish them and let's deal with them. Of course, obfuscation has certainly been part of your strategy in the past, perhaps this time as well. Remember, security through obfuscation is not secure and strategy through obfuscation is no strategy. I'll touch on the intellectual property disaster we have in a future post, but let's touch on the next dunce in the confederacy.
Bill Hilf now claims that free software is dead. I'm immediately reminded of that beautiful intellectual debate in "Plan 9 From Outer Space:"
Colonel Tom Edwards: ...Why, a particle of sunlight can't even be seen or measured.
Eros: Can you see or measure an atom? Yet you can *explode* one. A ray of sunlight is made up of *many* atoms!
Jeff Trent: So what if we *do* develop this Solanite bomb? We'd be even a stronger nation than now.
Eros: [with disgust] Stronger. You see? You see? You're stupid minds! Stupid! Stupid!
Stupid, stupid, stupid - it's not about free, it's about freedom. It doesn't matter that Red Hat, SuSE, Ingres, MySQL and many others make money off of open-source software. What matters is that I and anyone else can take that software and build off of it, use it, deploy it or do whatever we want without needing anyone's permission.
The software is free, it's open and yet people still figure out how to make money off of it. These companies are transparent. Let's contrast these companies with the closed-source companies who are secretive, battle innovation from the smaller players and are as opaque as can be. With whom would you rather do business?
Lastly, this quote from Bill really gets to me, "We have thousands of pages, thanks to the Department of Justice. There's no lack of clarity on what cheating could be. When I joined Microsoft, I spent a week in antitrust training to know exactly what the boundary conditions were."
Good grief, do you want to do business with a company that needs thousands of pages from the U.S. Department of Justice so they can understand what cheating would be and know their boundary conditions? Only a predatory company with a predatory culture would look at having an anti-cheat playbook as a positive.
Years ago as a teenager I worked for a grocery store. In the store they had a sign, "We don't train our people to be friendly, we hire friendly people."
Microsoft should consider hiring people who play fair rather than trying to train their people to "know exactly what the boundary conditions were."
Business is business. Microsoft can attempt to serve their shareholders in whatever way they believe is best. That's their business and they have to live and die by it as a company. Just give us a break and stop trying to bullshit us and obfuscate the truth, we're not buying it and you shouldn't be selling it.
Monday, May 7, 2007
MCI computer: Sorry that is not a valid choice
MCI computer: Sorry that is not a valid choice
Me: I want to speak with a F*()G person
MCI computer: Please wait while we connect you with the next available agent
So, did I just reach their limit of wrong answers or did I stumble upon the "oooh, he's ticked let's connect him with a person" magic code?
Once again, we see that companies have completely lost touch with service to their customers, probably in the name of some supposed profit justification. It only took four calls, multiple visits to their web-site and untold frustrations to simply pay my bill. Good thing I was trying to give them money, I'd hate to see what it would take to get a refund from them.
Wednesday, May 2, 2007
First we'll start with this motion in one of the RIAA lawsuits claiming illegal downloads of copyrighted material. The attorneys for the defendant are seeking to remove the "expert" witness for the plaintiff because the methods are mysterious, not founded on sound, peer-reviewed science and maintain a certain proprietary nature. They argue that methods used to accuse a person must be challengeable and testable. This is at the heart of the U.S. justice system, the accused always has a right to face their accuser.
However, in this particular case, the defense is pointing out that the methods used to identify their client as a scofflaw maintain a certain ethereal quality about them - they can't quite be grasped, examined and proven. There's a certain air of proprietary-ness associated with the methods used to identify these dastardly music downloaders.
Imagine for a moment that you stand accused of a crime. You find yourself in court and the evidence against you is the display screen from a computer program. The prosecution/plaintiff claim that the methods used to identify you are sound and can be trusted but the software used is considered a trade-secret and you'll just have to trust them when they say you are the culprit. You have no right to examine the software, you have no right to know how it determined your guilt - in essence you have no idea the true evidence against you. Have you ever read Kafka's "The Trial?" You should, this is where some would have us go.
With evidence, as with voting machines, the process has to be transparent to be trusted. If I'm ever accused of a crime I want my experts to be able to examine all the evidence, including source code of programs used to implicate me.
Unlike Kafka, I don't fear a conspiracy, I fear incompetence. I think the RIAA lawsuits are full of incompetence. Combine incompetence with bullying and intimidation and you get a lot of innocent people swallowed up in their own Kafkaesque nightmare.
Openness, which means open-source for software, helps to bring us out of this darkness and back into the light. Open-source is all about transparency and I don't fear that.
Sunday, April 29, 2007
I don't believe that any votes were stolen, any elections went the "wrong" way or that there's a widespread conspiracy in the elections system. I believe there's a much simpler explanation - sheer incompetence. I also believe there's a much simpler solution - open-source.
One of the most troubling points in the article was the claim that Diebold, the voting machine manufacturer, was claiming proprietary trade-secrets regarding the voting machine software, database design and data. I can't quite tell from the article if this was an actual claim or an assumption on the part of the auditor. Either way, this is extraordinarily troubling to me.
Voting is something that we should all take seriously in an almost sacrosanct way. Whatever your political beliefs, or lack thereof, voting is your most fundamental way of expressing your political beliefs.
That anyone, a manufacturer or a consumer of voting machines could believe that there's proprietary secret-sauce within the machine is shameful. The way that machine works must be transparent. Otherwise, there will be no faith left in the elections system at all. Transparency breeds trust, opaqueness breeds fear and distrust.
No elections commission in this country should give away their rights to fully understand the inner workings of any machinery related to the voting process; including the software.
My biggest fear is not that a conspiracy will steal elections - that takes too much coordination and too much secrecy. My fear is rooted in the many software systems I've seen and the possibility, or even the probability, that someone will make a moronic/crappy/idiotic decision in either the design or implentation of the system.
If Cuyahoga County in Ohio wants a true audit of their elections process then they'll demand to have a look at the source code.
Open-source is not just a fight against closed-source vendors. It's not just a new business model. Open-source is something that gives us back the transparency we demand in our government. Leaving our destiny to the magic of mysterious tabulating machines is not how I want our votes counted and you shouldn't either.
Saturday, April 28, 2007
Being the helpful soul that I try to be, I call the bank's service number and try to help them with their data accuracy. Their response was interesting, after answering many questions to prove who I am, they tell me that they will need the request in writing because the account is less than a year old.
I'm just flabbergasted. If I want to steal my own identity I'd happily send them a document in writing. The issue is that their data-input person typed the wrong address and I'm being asked to write them a letter to help correct it.
Brilliantly, I reply, "You already have it in writing. The original form I filled out and signed has the correct address on it, look it up and correct your problem."
I'm often met with silence when I engage others in conversation. I'm used to it and have become quite comfortable with silence. I don't feel compelled to fill the room with words just because no-one can think of something to say.
This silence went on for a while, though, and I was wondering if I had been disconnected. But I held on and waited.
Finally, the customer service rep came back and said, "Yes, we'll need that in writing. Just write a letter telling us the correct information and we'll correct it."
We repeated this exchange the obligatory three times before he either gave up or actually realized what I was saying. He corrected the address in their system and now everyone's happy.
Customer service, sheesh, that means service to the customer, not from.
Friday, April 27, 2007
The first step I performed in troubleshooting was to connect to my router at home. Un-surprisingly, it wasn't available. This was relatively good news, it meant it was a network issue and not a server issue. The next question, do I call home to California at 6:00 am to tell my wife the network's down or do I just wait until later in the day. My wife is home entertaining her mother and two of her aunts while I carefully look after things in Scottsdale. I'm sure she doesn't want a pro-active call at that time of day so I put it off 'till later.
Of course, I get a call from my wife later in the day asking why her Mac can't connect to the network. As if by magic I explain to her that the network is down and step her through the process of checking things out. Sure enough, Pacbell/SBC/AT&T has, once again, failed in their delivery of DSL services to my home. This is about the 20th time it's gone out in the past 7 years; at least, as far as I'm aware.
While I was having my wife get ready to power-cycle the DSL modem it re-synced and came back up. I'm back to copying my files and life goes on. But then my wife asked what we would have done had it not mysteriously re-appeared.
"That's easy," I replied, "we would have called Pacbell/SBC/AT&T customer service."
"Oh, what a pain that would be," she replied.
Then I explained how to deal with customer service. Given the number of times this has happened I know the routine and I know that it is likely that they will continue their 100% streak of it being their fault. I humor customer service. As they ask me to check things I merrily bang away at the keyboard and reply, "Oooooh, that didn't work, what should I try now." Of course, I'm not actually doing anything. I know the issue is on their end but they won't escalate and accept responsibility until they have me try everything.
So, I bang away, saying, "Yep, tried that and it still doesn't work." Eventually, they say it must be a network issue, they create an internal trouble ticket and I get service back typically by the next morning.
I've tried bypassing this process many times but I always get the same answer, "Sorry, but we need to check everything."
Of course, it's entirely possible that they're on the other end making things up for me to try just so they can appear to be "helpful." What a sad state of affairs customer service has become.
Thursday, April 26, 2007
I received a comment recently asking about analysts and their lack of bullishness on open-source projects. I think that we need to really understand the role of the typical analyst vs. the role of the futurist. I wrote a blog entry just over a year ago, titled "Stan, The World's Greatest Futurist, that explores predicting the future. The futurist has a very different job from that of the analyst.
The job of an analyst, to me, is to help explain, via thoughtful study (analysis) why something happened or what something that just happened means. For example, why did a company announce only $0.01/share of earnings when $0.25/share was expected? Financial analysts should be able to help us understand why this may have happened. Technology analysts should be able to tell us why some technologies are successful in a specific market.
Analysts use their life-experiences to help them understand why certain events occur.
Where we, as an industry, often get in trouble is when we expect the analysts to predict the future. More specifically, we get in the most trouble when we ask the analysts to predict the next major waves within an industry. Personally, I think many of the analysts with whom I've worked have had difficulty predicting the past, but that's another point.
I truly believe that it is exceedingly difficult to use one's analytical skills and past experiences to predict new waves and new technologies. New things come from out-of-the-box thinking; they don't come from tried-and-true methods.
It's a huge stretch to assume that a mainstream analyst who has spent their career analyzing proprietary software companies, and understanding how those companies value their closed-source technologies as intellectual property, is going to easily transform into someone who understands the benefits of open-source.
These analysts think that software companies only exist because they have proprietary, closed-source, secret sauce ingredients that would be too expensive for anyone else to copy. Therefore, an open-source company can't possibly succeed as a software company.
Perhaps the real issue we have is that we should stop calling open-source companies software companies. Maybe it's our own fault for using obsolete terms to try and get others to understand what we're all about.
Anyway, back to analysts and Stan - there's a huge difference between explaining the past and predicting the future. Although, I predict that I'll get a fair amount of complaints from the analysts in the audience. Wait, that's already happened - am I an analyst or a futurist.
Monday, April 2, 2007
At the time that SCO launched their lawsuit against IBM I was in the midst of managing Oracle's Linux Program Office and I had responsibility for Oracle's relationships with all the Linux players. We had a pretty good relationship with SCO mainly because of the work that was going on with Project Monterey, United Linux and others.
The relationship between SCO and Oracle was pretty much doomed once SCO filed their lawsuit. Contracts are interesting devices. In my mind, contracts serve two purposes - to chronicle the agreement for the future, that is, to serve as an aid for those not involved in the original negotiations so they know what was intended and as a means of enforcement once the relationship is dead.
If a relationship gets to the point that a court is needed to enforce the agreement then there is, arguably, no longer a relationship. If you don't think you need to chronicle the agreement for future generations to abide and you'll never sue the other party, then you probably don't need a contract. A lawsuit is the ultimate way of saying that one no longer cares about the relationship and the terms of the contract are more important than the relationship itself. After all, if the relationship was more important than the terms of an individual contract then there would be no lawsuit to enforce those terms.
At the time of the original lawsuit, SCO was out there trashing anything and everything associated with Linux saying that everyone was, essentially, stealing from them. They filed a number of lawsuits against a lot of companies.
The question I asked at Oracle was, "Why would anyone want to do business with them?" It was clear to me that for SCO, the terms of their contracts were more important than any relationship that led to those terms. I wasn't about to propose entering into any contracts with SCO. From my perspective they were not a company with which I wanted any kind of relationship.
When I joined Ingres one of the first voice mails I received was from SCO wanting to enter into a relationship with us. I wasn't the only one who received the calls. My advice was to ignore the calls - don't even return them. If SCO was asked I'd rather they would have to answer that they left us voice mails rather than they were in any type of discussions with us, even if those discussions would ultimately be fruitless.
The other interesting item in the Groklaw post was the identification of the "Chicago 7" as another group with whom SCO had a damaged relationship. I never really paid any attention to the Chicago 7 thinking it was a 1960's radical group of some type that I missed out on. As it turns out, the Chicago 7 is a label used for a meeting of a group of people at the Chicago O'Hare airport back in July of 2003. I was one of the "7" at that meeting. Darl McBride spoke about the "Chicago 7" as if it was some type of conspiracy against SCO.
Honestly, the only things I really remember saying about SCO in those days came from a very short list:
"What a bunch of idiots."
"What a bunch of morons."
"What are they thinking?"
Experiences are important - they help us learn and grow. The folks at SCO have a hell of an opportunity to grow. But, then again, my sayings about SCO from 2003 probably still hold true. I won't miss them when they're relegated to the ash-bin of history and are just a faint memory.
Oracle has, as expected, announced a number of new customers for their Linux support offering. This is no surprise and I expect that Oracle will ultimately gain a fairly large number of customers using their services. I'm not sure I would be one of them but it's simply the law of large numbers, some set of companies will sign with Oracle.
I've seen a lot of speculation in the press about why Oracle behaves the way it does with questions about their underlying motivation. It's very simple - Oracle is a proprietary software company and they want to protect their intellectual property and their customer base. Oracle will go after anything that threatens that install base. They will attempt to do so in the most efficient manner possible. This is called capitalism. There's absolutely nothing evil or wrong with this strategy. It's the same thing many of us do when we negotiate our salaries for new jobs or the price of the car we're going to buy.
The danger to Oracle in the long-term has to do with their attempt to lock-in a monetization model for their market. History is filled with companies that failed to see future movements within their industries and, ultimately, failed themselves. This strategy is borne of having something to lose. Oracle has a lot to lose and, therefore, faces more risk than smaller companies.
Start-ups, on the other hand, have nothing to lose and everything to gain. It's the new ideas that are the most threatening to large companies. I think of the start-ups as thousands of innovation engines, any one of which has the capacity and capability to re-define markets. While the risk for any individual start-up is tremendously high, the risk to all startups is rather modest. That same law of large numbers will virtually guarantee that some new company with some new idea will not only succeed but will thrive in the market.
Oracle's strategy is to avoid, alter or subsume the new ideas that arise from these start-ups before they become full-fledged threats. Long ago, Oracle and Microsoft were the up-start new kids on the block with revolutionary ideas that challenged the status-quo. Who are today's up-starts that will have our attention and respect 20 years from now?
Thursday, March 15, 2007
It all reminded me of an incident that happened to me many years ago when I was working at Oracle. At the time I was the director in the IBM product's division and I had a meeting coming up with IBM. We were negotiating over something or other and it was time to make something happen. I was going to have a meeting with some vice-president of something in IBM as a final meeting and to attempt to close the deal when I got a call from someone one level down.
The lower-level person at IBM told me that an IBM vice-president was like a senior vice-president at Oracle and, therefore, I should have an Oracle senior vice-president at the meeting.
I was somewhat dumbfounded and wasn't quite sure how to react. After a few seconds thought I replied, "I have the ability to say yes to this deal, does Mr. IBM vice-president?"
I was met with momentary silence, followed by, "This isn't about saying yes."
My response, "We'll have the meeting when you have someone who can say yes representing IBM."
It was an important lesson for me that's been repeated often - always know what you want and be sure you're meeting with the person who can deliver it. Otherwise, you'll never get what you seek.
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Pretty soon, on March 20th, Oracle will be making their quarterly revenue announcement. I expect that Oracle will announce a number of customers who have chosen to go with their new Unbreakable Linux support and replace Red Hat support with Oracle's own.
This shouldn't surprise anyone and shouldn't cause discomfort for anyone either. What you are likely to find in their list are large Oracle customers who are consolidating their support. My guess is that Oracle is offering aggressive incentives to these customers. Perhaps Oracle is offering an additional discount on their license or support costs to the customer in exchange for switching to Oracle.
Will it be 10, 100, 1000 new customers? I expect the number will be relatively small in the grand scheme of things but new customers will most assuredly be there. No one should take this as surprising news.
What still baffles me, though, is why doesn't Oracle just go ahead and call it a unique distribution?
Monday, March 12, 2007
This is one of the points with which I strongly disagree. I don't believe there are too many open-source licenses, per-se. I believe there are many open-source licenses that don't make sense, but the number of licenses isn't the issue. I think this is a false issue caused by something else - licensing standards.
The reality is that there are many more closed-source licenses than there are open-source licenses. In fact, I'm willing to bet that some corporations out there have more licenses with a single vendor than the total number of open-source licenses approved by the OSI.
The pain that companies have with open-source licenses is that they're not negotiable. One either accepts the GPL or the MPL or any other open-source license or one has to reject the entire proposal. With the closed-source licenses companies often re-negotiate the license itself. There is more flexibility with closed-source licenses because of this ability to individually negotiate the terms, if the licensee is big enough, that is.
In fact, I remember a phrase I learned about 18 years ago when I first joined Oracle - throw-away clause. These were clauses that were put in the license agreement with the expectation that the licensee would ask for them to be removed. The licensor would remove those clauses so the licensee's attorney could "feel good" about having done something positive for their client.
Personally, I think the non-negotiable licenses are much superior. One always knows what one is getting with an open-source license. Open-source licensing provides standardization to the licensing model which, believe it or not, is a superior model. You may not agree with all the terms of an open-source license but you know that everyone is subject to the same terms and that helps level the playing field.
What I like about Dell is that it's pretty easy to configure the order on-line. In today's world, tracking packages is extremely simple and thorough with the ability to get detailed information about a package location anywhere in the world, 24x7.
Apparently not with Dell. The machine was shipped with two-day shipping on March 1st and now, 12 days later, no one can locate the machine. I'm on the phone now with Dell, for the fourth time in the last five days. We've gone from, "It will be delivered in the next two hours," to, "It will be delivered tomorrow," to, "We don't know why it's in Salt Lake City," - I live in the San Francisco bay area, about 800 miles away.
They actually don't know where the machine is located. In this day and age when I expect to be able to find out, via internet and instantly, where any order is located I'm having to go through the phone-tree hell at Dell. It takes a long time to speak with an actual human who, apparently, has no more information than I. In fact, the agent with whom I'm speaking is currently going through the phone to speak with the shipper. Will the shipper speak with the truck driver via cell?
How can a company that represented the epitomy of on-line service and sales be reduced to such a position? Companies that forget the value they provide to their customers will always fail and disappear, is that the fate awaiting Dell?
I'm also tracking my order with AlienWare for my new desktop system. Let's see how they compare. I'm not sure yet how much I'll like AlienWare's service but I'm positive on how I feel about Dell. The only question that remains is if this is the last Dell machine I ever get or if the XPS already on my desktop was my last machine from them. If they can't find it then they can keep the order.
Update as I'm writing this - If I want to locate the machine, I need to call the carrier myself. When I asked to speak with a supervisor I was disconnected. Unbelievable.
Friday, March 9, 2007
On the other hand, consumers often fear disruption. Consumers seek smooth operation of their IT organization, they want to know that they can count on uninterrupted operation. Consumers also have their own context, often deeply established, that sets the stage for their interactions with software vendors.
One of the problems we have is our attempt as open-source vendors to sell replacement technology, this is the least attractive proposition for the consumer as it creates customer disruption without clear and convincing benefit.
However, there's tremendous opportunity in solving new problems for our prospective customers. There are tons of IT problems that have never been fixed and it's time we started solving them. Open-source allows us to create solutions easier - essentially being disruptive on the producer side, without being disruptive to the consumer. The consumer is now in a position of acquiring new technology to solve an existing, unsolved problem.
Our opportunity and challenge in the open-source world is to be disruptive without disrupting our customers.
Thursday, March 1, 2007
I happen to favor the GPL for a number of reasons but there are a number of other, perfectly valid, open-source licenses. It's interesting that some say that BSD doesn't require EnterpriseDB to publish their source code. But, BSD doesn't prevent them from publishing their source code either. For that matter, there's nothing preventing Oracle from publishing their source code save their desire to be a closed-source, proprietary product.
Let's see, the Oracle code that executes PL/SQL is closed and proprietary. The EnterpriseDB code that executes PL/SQL is closed and proprietary. It seems to me that EnterpriseDB is more akin to Oracle than it is to PostgreSQL, the base upon which it is built.
It's great that EnterpriseDB contributes back to PostgreSQL, but that's not the raison d' etre of their business. Their business is selling proprietary solutions to compete against Oracle. Those solutions consist of closed-source software and that makes them a closed-source company.
I suggest their participation in open-source conferences be based on the PostgreSQL tracks and their contributions to that project. Their EnterpriseDB product and messaging should be given the same consideration that the Oracle database would be given. Sorry, Andy.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
As an example, if there were five players on each team he might want to count the three best balls of the five for each hole. This isn't an uncommon desire in some of the betting games in golf that occur every weekend on golf courses worldwide. In fact, there are so many variations on betting games in golf that books have been published to describe them.
Anyway, the formula was a bit complex but not too daunting. It involved creating an array formula. It took me about a half-hour to come up with the formula and I shipped his spreadsheet back to him.
Then I decided to be a little more thorough. I absolutely knew from past experience that the formula would get trashed at some point and I wouldn't remember it well enough to just "fix it." So, I decided to write a VB macro so my friend could just press a button and have the formula automatically repopulated - basically a safety net.
What a nightmare. The formula was valid but Excel refused to allow me to create the formula via Visual Basic. As with most technology, I presumed that if it didn't work it was my fault and I spent days trying to find the error I was making before discovering that this is a known issue with Excel. In fact, this issue has been known since at least 1999. The work-around is insane; one has to write a nonsense formula that fits the same structure of the desired formula and then perform text substitutions. In this particular case, Microsoft has arbitrarily limited the length of an array formula created with a macro to 255 characters - a limitation that doesn't exist for a formula manually entered on a spreadsheet.
This is one of the key problems with closed-source software. This problem is, most likely, easily fixed. However, Microsoft has not deigned to fix it. In the open-source world the frustrated users don't have had to spend years inventing kludgy work-arounds, instead they can just fix the underlying problem.
And for all this, Microsoft still has the nerve to charge outrageous prices for the right to use the software. It's so unfortunate that so many users still want to use Microsoft Office because they think it's the easier thing to do. We're well past time to move to a new model.
Monday, February 26, 2007
- MySQL is not a real database
- MySQL is one of the most successful database systems out there
Matt Asay has an interesting blog on his site regarding the claim that MySQL is not a real database. I've been arguing for a while that MySQL is the proof that most systems are not database-centric in nature. In my blog entry, Centricity, I define the difference between application-centric and database-centric systems.
As someone who spent their career in databases, I can very well understand why people argue that MySQL isn't a real database. The operational issues (re-issuing SQL statements as part of a recovery) and the non-deterministic behavior when certain, invalid operations are attempted make it easy to argue that MySQL doesn't fit with many of the large-scale operational requirements of enterprise IT organizations. MySQL, I'm sure, will "fix" many of these issues as time goes on but, for now, there are valid issues that prevent MySQL from tackling some of the large database-centric problems.
On the other hand, though, MySQL's popularity absolutely proves that most systems that are deployed on a database are not database-centric. MySQL's success, I believe, is related directly to the ease with which applications can be developed. This has led to many application templates being developed on top of MySQL which, in turn, has made it easier to develop even more applications. Generally speaking, application developers don't care about how recovery of a down database is performed.
IT managers do care, though, about how long it takes to recover a down or corrupted database. As I pointed out in my Centricity blog, the problem with Oracle is that they want you to pay the database-centric premium for all your database deployments and that premium is very large, indeed.
Thursday, February 22, 2007
I was disappointed with the Troon North course only because of its steep price compared to the TPC course, but the experiences at all of them were great. I've had 10 days of golf over the last 11 days and my new swing is starting to become more a part of me.
If you love golf you'll love Scottsdale because of the huge number of courses available. The desert is stunningly beautiful and the saguaro cacti are infinitely interesting.
We're driving to Baton Rouge, Louisiana tomorrow to visit family and get a little more golf in. Driving across this country is a lot of fun and tremendously relaxing. By the time I get back home I'll be well rested and hope to have my game back under control.
Unfortunately, we're also seeing some fraying of the edges of the messaging around open-source.
Open-source is just that, open. We're starting to see some constituencies complain about the spirit of open-source vs. the letter of the law on licenses such as the GPL. The GPL is what it is. There have been complaints about Novell bypassing some of the "spirit" associated with the GPL in their relationship with Microsoft.
The question is, though, is the "spirit" of open-source attempting to change. The beauty of open-source is that anyone can do anything with open-source as long as they adhere to the license agreements. This means anything. Generally, the licenses require that if any changes are made to the code, those changes are given to the community under the same terms as the original license. Once I put something into open-source I no longer control what happens to it beyond the terms of the license and I am happy about that.
The beauty of open-source is that it has the ability to benefit many constituencies, even those with whom we may not agree. We are only at the beginning of this revolution, let's do everything we can to grow the movement.
Monday, February 19, 2007
Another article has come out recently about how IDC is predicting that the Linux ecosystem will reach $40 billion by 2010. I picked up on this one by reading Matt Asay's blog entry on the subject.
Now, I have a love-hate relationship with the analysts. Many of them I consider to be close friends and I've told them that I think analysts are usually predicting the past and half the time they get that wrong.
The major issue I have with the IDC numbers is they're using old techniques to measure and judge the success of an open-source product/project. The concept of open-source projects is their ability to remove money from the ecosystem, not in creating a new, large(r) ecosystem. I realize that investors want to know how much money they can make by investing in open-source companies, but if you really want to be useful then tell me something I don't know.
I know that Linux and other open-source businesses are going to grow tremendously. I know that you can look at dollar figures over a time-line and predict future dollar figures.
What I don't know is how much money is being removed from the IT infrastructure budgets. Open-source is about doing it better, cheaper, faster and more transparently than the closed-source vendors can allow. Tell me how much money will be saved by the IT industry by adopting open-source vs. closed-source and you'll give me a much better picture of the impact of open-source.
The closed-source vendors have trained the analysts to measure success by how much money they make. How about measuring success by how much money customers save? Now, that's a prediction I'd like to see someone make.
I've been in Scottsdale since February 11th and have played golf every day. My old game is starting to come back, I'm feeling more confident and making some great shots. A few birdies here and there tell me I'm starting to get back on track. Since everything's going so well I thought I'd screw it up.
My wife, Wendy, has decided to take up the game and she and I went to the TPC Tour Academy at TPC Scottsdale where they just held the FBR Open, formerly the Phoenix Open. They fixed some pretty serious swing flaws that I had. Unfortunately, I had adjusted to those very swing flaws and could shoot a pretty decent score. Even with those flaws I was in about the 89th percentile of golfers based on my handicap index.
But, alas, correcting those swing flaws puts me into a position of having to catch up. I need to become more comfortable with the more correct swing and this requires practice. Wow - a benefit, in order to benefit from the new golf lessons, I will need to practice what I learned and that means more golf.
Honey, I'm just trying to realize the value of our investment - practice, practice, practice.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
The open-source movement reminds me very much of the various political movements I saw growing up and echoes in many ways “the man vs. the oppressed” battles of only a few decades ago. We could draw analogies of the closed-source software companies to “the man”, or maybe we call the IT organizations that weren’t willing to try open-source “the establishment.” If I extend this analogy further then we can see the open-source movement as the anti-establishment protestors fighting the closed-minded IT establishment.
But what happens when the establishment agrees with the protestors? Is this like matter meeting anti-matter, ying becoming yang or, shudder to think, closed-source becoming open? What would the protestors do?
In my mind the anti-establishmentarians have won. They’ve started to convince the software consumers that they should no longer be consuming closed-source software. The modern IT organization is starting to turn to and understand that open-source is good for them; they’re recognizing that they’ve been kept down by “the man” (the closed-source vendors).
What will the protestors do? They can expand the overall community by embracing their new brethren or they can continue to protest and fight for purity of message. The problem isn’t “the establishment”, it’s closed-source software. The open-source movement can be an even bigger winner by enlarging its community and accepting the new commercial interests. The enemy is the continued stifling of innovation brought about by the established closed-source vendors investing in business protectionism rather than innovation. It is in the best interests of the open-source foundation and the established IT organizations to work together towards a common cause. Perhaps, then, we can start to keep “the man” down.
Saturday, February 10, 2007
Emotionally, the personal experience was a bit disturbing as I could see many of the swing flaws I knew I had. Objectively thinking, though, it was a tremendously exhilerating experience as I went through a process that few others had. I got to see a clear picture of what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong. I was fully engaged in the process and could have stayed all day looking at the technology and learning about TaylorMade's products.
The experience was more fun than I've had in a long time. It's so unfortunate that software customer visits can't be as exciting. We might just accomplish so much more if they were.
Friday, January 26, 2007
Can you talk a little about why you left Ingres? Specifically, there's been rumors in the press that Ingres may be an Oracle acquisition target (e.g. the Bruce Richardson anaylst comment). Obviously, that freaks out any open source developer considering Ingres. Any comments?
January 22, 2007 2:40:00 PM PST
One of the articles that references the rumor can be found here at line56.com.
While an interesting rumor, my understanding is that the original source for the thought of Oracle buying Ingres included a list of predictions and potential "out there" kinds of thoughts. I think the acquisition rumor was closer to the latter than the former.
The reason I "left" Ingres is much more personal and not at all wrapped up in corporate intrigue but I'll touch on both in this post.
First, the intrigue. Rumors, speculation and prediction are plentiful in the corporate world. While some are well founded others are just out there a bit too far. I imagine that there will be many rumors to come over the next few years about Ingres and its future. Ingres is already successful, has a large and loyal customer base and is likely to continue to celebrate its longevity. As Ingres continues to drive new ideas many people will speculate about its future; will it be acquired? will it go public? These types of rumors don't surprise me and I expect there will be many more. At some point the investors will look for an "exit strategy" for their investment - that is, a way to realize the value they're building in funding Ingres.
Will Oracle buy Ingres? Who knows? I certainly don't and the rumor and my departure are completely unrelated.
So, then, why did I leave? It's wrapped up with a little history.
I left Oracle in 2004 to help my family back in Maryland. I spent almost all of 2004 travelling back and forth between California, where I live, and Maryland. During that time I also spent a lot of time working with the venture capital firms in Silicon Valley discussing open-source strategies. When I wasn't in Maryland supervising the construction of a house, or in California advising in the open-source world I was playing golf. I finished the house in 2004 and spent most of 2005 advising and playing golf. I was contacted in the summer of 2005 about Ingres and its potential spin-out from Computer Associates.
I was reluctant to become involved at first but after a few meetings with Terry Garnett, the lead on the deal for Garnett & Helfrich, I became convinced that something more could be made of Ingres than just being another open-source database company. I agreed to provide consulting to the new Ingres company before the spin-out had occurred. I agreed to extend that consulting engagement into a full-time position as SVP of strategy and CTO when Ingres was spun out in November of 2005.
A lot of people put in a lot of hard work over that first year contacting the existing Ingres customers, creating a business-model, modifying the licensing and pricing of the product, setting a product direction - essentially building a company. It was a tremendously exciting time for me. I flew close to 200,000 miles in 2006 spending well over 400 hours inside airplanes and well over 1/3 of the nights away from home. 2006 was tremendously fun for me as we worked on the strategy for the company and set about creating a direction.
Now comes execution. Often, the characteristics of a company executing attract a different kind of personality than a company inventing itself. I tremendously enjoy the invention of new ideas, new products and new companies. I had what I consider to be an extremely exciting year during the most interesting time to be involved with any company. I believe that Ingres is going to be tremendously successful.
For me personally, however, it's time for me to go back to advising. Ingres has a good management team concentrating on building out new business opportunities based on some of the strategies and products that I helped create. That's very exciting and satisfying for me. I will continue to be involved with Ingres as an advisor. I will re-establish many of my old relationships, on and off the golf course. And, I imagine, I will have a lot of discussions with a lot of other open-source companies as an "independent advisor."
Mostly, however, I am in the very fortunate position of being able to spend more time with my wife, Wendy. She has her own hobbies and interests and I look forward to spending more time with her as we explore different parts of the world together - first stop, Kona.
I will miss a lot of the day-to-day activity at Ingres but I will still be involved in some of the strategic discussions within the company and also within the industry. I consider myself very lucky.