Thursday, March 15, 2007

Who Can Do It?

My wife, Wendy, and I have been negotiating lately. Not with each other but with some real-estate brokers and house developers. As a result of these negotiations I've been reminded of all the times that I negotiated over the years; to buy houses, to buy cars, to get a new job, etc.

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

Oracle's Linux

It's been pretty quiet lately on Oracle's Linux. There was a lot of noise when Oracle first announced that they were going to undercut Red Hat's price for support of Red Hat's distribution of Linux. I wrote a blog about it called Bullshit where I challenged Oracle's stated reasons for doing such a move.

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

Licensing And Standards

At last week's Open Source Think Tank event in Napa, one of the interesting issues that came up, and always comes up at these events, was licensing. There was the usual contentious presentation on GPL v3, some of the changes it's bringing, or proposing and, of course, the usual presentation on the way-too-many licenses out there.

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.

Dell Hell

I ordered a new server a couple of weeks ago to replace one that I built about 5 years ago. I decided to buy a pre-built machine because I felt I just didn't have the time to go through the process of assembly. To keep it simple, I ordered an empty machine. It has one disk drive, no operating system and should have taken no time to build. Because I'm heading on the road again I paid for two-day delivery.

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


I'm at the Open Source Think Tank conference in Napa, California at the moment and we've had a few interesting conversations. One of the topics we discussed was disruption. Disruption is a word we love to use in the open-source world and we often describe ourselves as great disruptors and innovators.

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

If You Can't See It, It Ain't Open

I've been fascinated by the number of articles on EnterpriseDB and whether or not they're an open-source company (Dana Blankehorn, Matt Asay, Allison Randal) all, apparently, given birth from this article by Nat Torkington.

EnterpriseDB is not an open-source product. In my opinion, they're not an open-source company either.

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.