Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Change of Address

I am moving this blog to Blogspot. If it works properly, all existing posts should be copied across. Archive copies will remain here on my personal website, but will not be updated.

The new location of the blog will be

If you are subscribed to this blog, please make sure that you are using the feedburner feed, as this will be redirected automatically.

Depending on your feed settings, you may receive repeated notification of updated posts when the blog moves. Please bear with me during this move. Normal service will be resumed etc etc.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

And then there were two ...

So Microsoft wants to buy Yahoo!, huh? The BBC describes this as a shotgun wedding - with Google wielding the shotgun. [BBC News, February 1st, 2008] And in a post entitled Monkey Boy's three-legged race, Fake Steve Jobs reminds Steve Ballmer of his previous disdain for mergers. When such mergers involved companies getting together to compete against Microsoft, maybe Microsoft could afford to be confidently superior. But now it seems it's Microsoft that needs a merger (with Yahoo!) to compete against the market leader (Google), and Ballmer's previous words may come back to haunt him.

(For another deal like this, think of Oracle buying PeopleSoft to compete with SAP.)

Google purports to be upset at the deal, with a pompous protest from its Chief Legal Officer entitled Yahoo! and the future of the Internet, and even the often cynical Fake Steve seems to take this protest at face value. But if Fake Steve's own analysis is correct, Google has no need to worry. Challenging the deal may simply be a way of making sure the Microsoft board can't back down without losing face.

Apart from Google, Microsoft and the Yahoo! shareholders, who are the winners and losers in this game? Bill Burnham thinks that this is a Bad Deal for Silicon Valley, because Yahoo! was one of the prime buyers of internet startups (notably and Flickr). But of course there are plenty other players. eBay is perhaps still licking its wounds after the over-priced acquisition of Skype, and NewsCorp (which has ruled out a rival bid for Yahoo!) maybe hasn't yet quite worked out what to do with MySpace, but that leaves TimeWarner (owner of AOL), Comcast (owner of thePlatform), IAC (owner of Ask and Bloglines) and a few others.

Oh yes, AOL-TimeWarner, that was a merger wasn't it? The $200bn company that was created by the take-over of media giant TimeWarner by the Internet upstart AOL, but the letters AOL no longer part of the company name, and AOL has now reverted to its ordained place in the corporate world, as a division of a large media company called TimeWarner. A number of the AOL local operations have been sold off, and Google currently has a 5% stake of the remainder [Press Release].

In the past, TimeWarner has got rid of many once-profitable divisions, including Atari, MTV Networks, and Time-Life. Some investors have demanded a break-up of Time and Warner, so perhaps a return to the good old days of Warner Brothers. That kind of thing seems to be normal ebb and flow among media companies. Companies can merge, but they don't necessarily stay merged.

But we haven't seen much of that in the software industry yet. To date, IBM and Microsoft have successfully defended themselves against regulatory break-up. (But the future demands of Wall Street may be more difficult to ignore.) The post-merger Microsoft will be a different kind of company, with new challenges. Maybe Steve Ballmer needs to take Larry Ellison out to lunch and pick his brains. (And I never thought I'd say that.)

Update (further commentary)

  • If apparently intelligent people/organizations do apparently stupid things, it is tempting to look for some secret conspiracy or hidden motive that will make sense of the plan. For example, the Economist thinks this might be a devious trap to get Google snared in antitrust action. [The Economist (Feb 5th), via Fake Steve Jobs]
  • Marc Andreessen agrees with me that there are plenty other companies acquiring Internet property, but Bill Burnham still thinks the overall effect is negative for Silicon Valley. Fred Wilson sums up: It's time to think long-term.
  • Meanwhile Fake Steve Jobs is enjoying himself. Some months ago he was complaining of boredom, pining for a really good train-wreck merger. A reader asks if the Microsoft / Yahoo deal qualifies for this description. FSJ's answer is a resounding Yes.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Skype Skuppered

It turns out that it was Microsoft that brought down Skype for two days earlier this month. Microsoft's monthly software update (known as Patch Tuesday) triggered millions of computers to reboot at the same time, which always puts an unusual strain on major Internet companies such as Skype.

As Alex from RiskManagement Insight points out, this is equivalent to a form of DDOS (distributed denial of service) attack. From a risk management perspective, it may not matter very much whether an attack is deliberate and malicious, or merely an accidental side-effect of some entirely innocent action.

Although Skype had survived previous Patch Tuesdays without incident, it seems that this month's Patch Tuesday triggered a previously unknown bug in Skype's software. As Alex points out, it is practically impossible to construct a test environment large and complex enough to simulate this scenario.

I haven't seen any figures, but I have little doubt that Skype's competitors (including Microsoft) must have experienced an unusually high level of new registrations during Skype's misfortune. Now that we have become accustomed to free voice calls over the Internet, it seemed outrageous to return to the almost mediaeval practice of paying real money for talking over the telephone, so my colleagues and I signed up to Yahoo Messenger.

It's an ill wind ...

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Monday, June 11, 2007

IBM acquires Telelogic

A couple of weeks ago, I was discussing the future of modelling tools over breakfast with Danny Sabbah, General Manager of IBM Rational Software. The modelling tools market is growing fairly slowly, and Danny made it clear that Rational was looking to increase its market share substantially.

So today's announcement [note 1] that IBM is going to acquire Telelogic makes a lot of commercial sense. Telelogic has an impressive portfolio of tools, especially since its acquisition of Popkin in 2005, and it has a strong position in Requirements Management (DOORS) and Enterprise Architecture (System Architect). Popkin contributed significantly to the Business Process Management Initiative (BPMI), and was closely allied to John Zachman.

Telelogic's tools and methods didn't suit every user company, and in the past I have sometimes had occasion to be mildly critical of Popkin, especially from an SOA perspective. The Popkin acquisition was billed at the time as a move into SOA [note 2] but this promise was only just starting to be realised with the announcement last month of System Architect for SOA [note 3].

If IBM had wanted to buy a pure SOA modelling company, there would have been other, perhaps worthier candidates. But Telelogic is undoubtedly more attractive to IBM, because of its other assets and relationships; IBM can be relatively unconcerned by Telelogic's weaknesses, and should have little difficulty reassuring the customers of both companies.

But growth by acquisition is only one piece of Danny's strategy for IBM Rational. Another important piece is a shift in focus - from selling tools and technologies to selling process and business value. This means selling to the business, not selling to developers. Instead of being billed as a software engineering methodology, RUP may come to be positioned as an industry model for the software development industry, which IBM should be able sell in the same way it sells industry models for banking, insurance and other industries.

Modelling tool vendors have always faced the problem of growth. If the tools are good, they may get a loyal community of keen developers, but that is not quite enough. Rational itself had reached a plateau as an independent vendor before its acquisition by IBM in 2002. Is there more consolidation to come?

[Note 1] IBM to Acquire Telelogic to Advance Global Software Delivery Strategy (June 2007), IBM beats HP in bid for Telelogic (June 2007)

[Note 2] Telelogic's Popkin Purchase Prepares the Way for SOA (April 2005), Telelogic looks to bring modeling to SOA (Nov 2006)

[Note 3] Telelogic Facilitates Service Oriented Architecture Adoption (May 2007), Telelogic Adds Business Process SOA Solution (May 2007), Telelogic tools tie software services to business processes (June 2007)

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Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Difference of Opinion

So much of what passes for software industry analysis is pretty bland and polite, so it is perhaps refreshing to see a fiercely argued difference of opinion emerging between Jason Bloomberg at ZapThink and Ron Ten-Hove at Sun Microsystems.

Jason views SCI and JBI as little more than vendor politics and hype [SearchWebServices May 31st 2007]. As a key player in the game, Ron is clearly offended by this opinion and insists that ZapThink should rethink SCA and JBI.

It is often difficult to make judgements about abstract artefacts such as SCA and JBI. We need to have clear answers to four sets of questions, which Aristotle called the Four Causes.
  • Formal cause. What exactly is the nature of the artefact? Is it a (proposed) standard, an architecture, a layer within an architecture, a platform, or something else? (It doesn't help of course that each of these terms has multiple shades of meanings.)
  • Material cause. What has gone into its production? What are the constructs and principles on which it is based?
  • Efficient cause. What has been the process? What stage of the process have we reached? Who has participated in the process?
  • Final cause. What purpose does it serve? For whom?
It seems to me that Jason is basing his conclusions on the technical and political background of the SCA and JBI initiatives. He is therefore reasoning from Material and Efficient Cause to Formal and Final Cause.

Meanwhile, Ron is arguing from Formal Cause ("standard services model") and Final Cause ("the need for service composition"). If SCA and JBI fall short of these requirements, this is because the process isn't complete.

Ron avers there are lots of factual errors in Jason's interview. But it is not the factual accuracy that is really at issue here, but the fact that they are simply not talking about the same thing.

And it is only when people disagree that the basis for the disagreement becomes visible. This is why vigorous disagreement is much better than vague agreement.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Are we making progress?

Twenty years ago, I had a Mac Plus that ran Microsoft Word. Loaded from a single 800kb floppy disc. (There were some utilities on a second floppy, but I don't think I ever used them.)

When I wanted to work on a document, I switched on the computer and there it was. I could start work from cold in under a minute.

Several computers later, I now have to wait several minutes while the computer loads all sorts of rubbish. Microsoft Word now occupies several CDs, uses up tons of disc space, and runs more slowly on a high-specification laptop today than it did in the 1980s.

This has now been confirmed by some detailed benchmarks reported on HubPages by Hal Licino (via Fake Steve Jobs). Update: Fake Steve Jobs (Thinking More About Microsoft) also reminds us that "Microsoft's ... rise to power came as a result of Bill Gates positioning Windows as smaller, cheaper, easier and faster than OS/2 Presentation Manager".

So much for productivity. So much for progress.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Does Telephony Matter?

Avaya sends me a press release (May 23rd): their IP telephony solution has been adopted at a major concert venue.

Sometimes I have difficulty seeing anything interesting about the link between a given organization and a given item of technical infrastructure. Every organization has some kind of telephone system, and I can't see anything unusual about the telephony objectives of this particular organization - ‘state of the art’ customer service, advanced functionality, exceeding customer expectations, improved productivity, etc., etc..

So why should we be interested in this particular case study. Perhaps there is only one reason - because of an old Beatles song:
Now we know how many calls it takes to fill the Albert Hall ...

Questions, Questions

Eric Schmidt is quoted by the Financial Times (May 22, 2007):
"The goal is to enable Google users to be able to ask the question such as 'What shall I do tomorrow?' and ‘What job shall I take?’ "
With something as outrageous as this, A-List bloggers such as BurningBird and Nicholas Carr hardly need to say anything themselves. They simply post the quote under a suitably provocative headline and get their readers to do the detailed commentary. Nice.

But what Schmidt actually said is clearly false, because Google users have always asked these questions. The problem has always been getting half-decent answers. Possibly Schmidt's real goal is that Google shall attempt to provide answers, or (even better) get some other company to pay for the opportunity. Or that Google shall influence the questions we choose to ask. Or even that we choose to channel every single question in our lives in Google's direction.

But it is interesting that Schmidt expresses his goal in this way, because it illustrates the way Google blurs the boundaries between itself and its users. In his own blog (Google is Me, The Joy of Personalization), someone called Maluke suggests that such blurring is commonplace.
"It's not specific to Google actually, it’s an instance of a common kind of delusions of grandeur for big software companies, media outlets etc."
This relates to an earlier discussion on Google and God from November 2003, where I wrote:

"Many believers say God is not sitting on a cloud somewhere, God is in ourselves, in our hearts. When Google is equated with God, we are supposed to interpret this equation as referencing not the Google software nor the Google company, but the Internet community as a whole - ourselves as Google users. And perhaps we geeks are supposed to be flattered by this."

A few short years later and the public mood about Google has certainly shifted hasn't it?