August 2006 Archives

Is Schmidt the set-up pitcher for an Apple-Sun merger? - MarketWatch

Apple is looking to make a splash in the server market to solidify its position there, but it does not have the credibility of a Dell, HP, IBM or a Sun despite the quality of its offerings, and it would love to grow that very profitable side of the business. Sun is positioned to make another run at server dominance as this is written, thanks to its superstar engineer and co-founder Andreas von Bechtolsheim.

There are a lot of reasons I don't buy this theory at all (the fact that Dvorak wrote it is one of them), but the idea that Apple's looking to "make a splash in the server market" is a big one.

Apple's server business exists as a way to provide a complete solution sale to their core markets: design and media, education, and scientific computing. That the same basic boxes and server software might be attractive for general enterprise computing is incidental. Apple's not interested in the enterprise market that is bread and butter for Sun, HP, Dell, and IBM (and Microsoft and Red Hat).

In fact, this would be a match between an enterprise computing non-entity, and a company whose trajectory in enterprise computing has been largely downward for the past five years. The only thing this marriage would do is cut Apple's stock price in half and make HP + Compaq look good by comparison.

Don Dodge on The Next Big Thing: Google CEO joins Apple board - is there more to this?

Strategic alliances, board seats, and press releases make for good stories, but business is driven by real customer demand for products and services. Years ago when I worked in business development we called these things "Barney Agreements". You know..."I love you, You love me, ..."

Nothing really happens unless money changes hands. Each company will do whatever is in their best interest. More specifically, each salesperson still has a quota and will do whatever it takes to make it happen. Most times strategic alliances only confuse the sales process or slow it down.

Even when strategic alliances turn into a merger it is still hard to find the synergies. Remember AOL and Time Warner? AOL was the dominant Internet company at the time, and Time Warner was the biggest content provider in the world. Television, movies, music, magazines...they had it all. AOL would be the perfect Internet channel for all this content. The synergies were limitless. Well, we all know how that turned out.

The best partnerships, and the best mergers, are customer driven, where customers demand and pay big bucks for products from two separate companies but want them to work together seamlessly. On the other hand, it rarely works when two companies decide to cooperate on something and then try to create customer demand for it.

Maybe I'm quibbling, but there's a world of difference between strategic alliances, board seats, and press releases. Putting somebody on your board isn't really a Barney deal. Schmidt will have legal responsibilities to Apple's shareholders, which means he'll have liability (above and beyond reputational damage) if things go wrong.

This isn't, of course, a formal agreement between Apple and Google, which is what makes the import of this news so difficult to pin down. But, clearly, when the board gets together to hear about Apple's strategy to leverage trends in social computing or ad-driven revenue models, everyone's going to turn to Schmidt for his opinion, and he'll have a special perspective to contribute.

That's why this deal is interesting, and that's why Don Dodge (and doubtless many of his fellow Microsoft employees) is spending part of his day reading these tea leaves, which is exactly what I meant when I said this would cause some sleeplessness near Seattle.

Google CEO Dr. Eric Schmidt Joins Apple's Board of Directors

Apple today announced that Dr. Eric Schmidt, chief executive officer of Google, was elected to Apple's board of directors at their meeting today. Eric also sits on Google's board of directors and Princeton University's board of trustees.

"Eric is obviously doing a terrific job as CEO of Google, and we look forward to his contributions as a member of Apple's board of directors," said Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO. "Like Apple, Google is very focused on innovation and we think Eric's insights and experience will be very valuable in helping to guide Apple in the years ahead."

Normally board appointments are kinda "meh" news, but this one's going to raise some eyebrows.

One need look no further than .Mac to see that Apple hasn't quite got the same vision around online services that Google does (or perhaps they do have the vision, they just lack the execution, either way). Tapping into the network-oriented thinking of a company like Google could only be good news for Apple.

For Google, this is about recognizing that the box on the customer's desk (or lap, or in their living room, or in the palm of their hand) matters, and Apple's set the bar.

Of course, this is also a gesture designed to induce some sleeplessness near Seattle, as the folks in Redmond try to figure out how this could affect them. As the WSJ points out:

While most board appointments in the technology industry escape wide notice, the Apple announcement unites two of the most high-profile executives in the business -- Mr. Schmidt and Apple CEO Steve Jobs -- prompting speculation that the move could lead to a deeper alliance between the companies at some point.

Some analysts interpreted the appointment of 51-year-old Mr. Schmidt as an event that could help Apple embrace new sources of revenue like Internet advertising, the foundation of Google's highly profitable business.

Mr. Jobs has linked Apple and Google in the past as innovators that have managed to stump their much larger rival, Microsoft. In a speech earlier this month to software developers, Mr. Jobs said Microsoft spends more than $5 billion a year on research and development, "yet these days all they seem to be able to do is try to copy Google and Apple."

Schneier on Security: Details on the British Terrorist Arrest

As I said on a radio interview a couple of weeks ago: "We ban guns and knives, and the terrorists use box cutters. We ban box cutters and corkscrews, and they hide explosives in their shoes. We screen shoes, and the terrorists use liquids. We ban liquids, and the terrorist will use something else. It's not a fair game, because the terrorists get to see our security measures before they plan their attack." And it's not a game we can win. So let's stop playing, and play a game we actually can win. The real lesson of the London arrests is that investigation and intelligence work.

Always comforting to be thinking the same things about security as Bruce Schneier.

Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters: Nerds Rock Kirkland

So when I heard about the All Nerdcore Hip-Hop Show at the Shark Club in Kirkland last night, of course I had to go. I enlisted my friend Matt, a fellow Microsoftie, and off we went to check out the "gig" (as someone who linked to my previous article put it, "Microsoftie discovers nerdcore, adds to the litany of bad pun-based hip hop").

Adam Barr sees nerdcore in the flesh and shouts out to yours truly. How could I not like?

Back in tha day, AccordionGuy and I threw a quickie electronica track together and credited ourselves as "System 7" and "OS/2".

Nerds With Attitude. 1337 for 1IF3.

WidgetWatch: Kaboodle

Kaboodle Gets Widgetized! - Mashable!

But the more interesting news is that they’re getting into the widget game. Once the site goes back online (it’s down for maintenance at the moment), you’ll be able to arrange a collection of your Kaboodle items into a collage, then convert it into a Flash widget for MySpace, Friendster, Xanga, blogs and websites. The widget will also allow other users to contribute items to the collection. What’s more, they’re launching Flash slideshows for MySpace and blogs, and new ways to view your Kaboodle content - either as an itinerary or a grid.

More widgets spotted in the wild. In this case, social shopping site Kaboodle is hoping to get some word of widget (while adding value to users) through their own Flash-based widget workshop.

Tech Trader Daily: Apple Threat? Startup SpiralFrog To Offer Free Music Downloads From Major Labels

Apple (AAPL) may have itself a new problem. A previously obscure startup called SpiralFrog this morning announced that it has signed up Universal Music to participate in a new ad-supported music download site it plans to launch in December. The company says it is talks with the other major labels - Warner, EMI and Sony-BMG. A story in the Financual Times reports that apparel maker Perry Ellis has said it will advertise on SpiralFrog, and that Levi's, Benetton (BNG), Aeropostale (ARO) and others have expressed interest.

Ford says the site intends to give 50% of net revenue from advertising to the music publishers who participate on the site, with the pie divided based on the number of song downloads.

He says the site will be compatible with all music players other than the Apple iPod.

"SpiralFrog?" Really? Whatever.

The internets are buzzing with this one. Let's think about what we have here for a moment.

It's nice to see a major label willing to tinker with pricing; free is pretty daring, so kudos to Universal and FrogSpiral. None of the articles I've seen says anything about a guaranteed payment to the participating labels, so it's quite possible that they're in this for a piece of the upside, but they could walk away with nothing. Worth remembering, though, that the label isn't the only participant in music revenue, and I'd like to know more about how the artists are being taken care of in this deal.

I may be wrong about this, but I think that digitally licensed music royalty payments differ depending on factors like whether the music being licensed is downloaded a la carte or is streamed on a subscription basis; if the track can be burned to a CD-R/RW; if the track is transferable to other devices, and if so, how many. Stories I've seen have said the music from LizardSwirl won't be burnable, but it will be transferable to a portable device, so perhaps that hints at a cheaper deal for BlenderGecko than Apple gets for the iTMS.

The other thing the burning restriction says, of course, is that the music will be DRM-ed. I suppose it was too much to hope that the labels would go for uncrippled MP3 downloads (after all, it's not as if DRM has stopped piracy in the slightest). Eliot Van Buskirk has confirmed that IguanaMix will be serving up PlaysForSure Windows Media audio files, protected with Microsoft's Windows Media DRM 10, hence the lack of iPod support. Of course, all DRM can be circumvented, and WM DRM is no exception.

This sets up an interesting contest for 2007: will the lure of gratis music tied to Microsoft's DRM on SwirlyToad be enough to put a dent in Apple's iPod-driven dominance? In other words, is free music enough to make you want to buy gear from iRiver or Archos, or is the device more important than the cost of the music? It certainly won't be a fair fight until TwistyReptile has a complete catalog. And what to make of the statistics showing that the average device owner makes minimal use of the online music services? Does that mean that DRM-protected formats aren't really the lock-in tools we think they are? After all, the MP3s you get when you rip your CD collection or when you download from LimeWire are playable on any device. And can anyone reasonably factor in the Zune effect? If Microsoft's serious about creating a non PlaysForSure rival integrated system to Apple's iPod/iTunes/iTMS triad, that means WhirlySnake will get squeezed on both sides.

And, seriously, what is with that name?

Update: Then there's this reveal from TechCrunch:

Spiral Frog will offer a desktop downloader for Windows Media Files (no iPods!) that can be listened to on one PC and two portable devices. Here's the kicker - you must log in to the Spiral Frog service at least once per month, and see their ads, or your files will stop playing! The details aren't fully set in stone, but it will be something like that. There will be links to third party sites of the record labels choosing if you'd like to buy your freedom to at least skip the ads.

Let the en-lamening of BigContentTwistedReptile begin in earnest. First, people are already taking bets on how long it will take before Greasemonkey-driven de-DRM-ing proxy services sprout up for this thing, and now you have to visit granny once a month or your music stops playing? I can't imagine that would be difficult to spoof, either. If they can turn off your tunes for not stopping by, then this is an ad-driven subscription service; SwirlyJubJub seems to think I don't own my tracks after I've suffered through the requisite ads.

One PC and two devices? That sounds like a problem waiting to happen: what if I upgrade my hardware, do I have to de-register the devices first, or will I be expected to endure more 13-34 demo-targeted messages to re-download my music?


The Yourdon Report: Blog Archive: Recurring themes from my Web 2.0 visits

I visited eight Web 2.0 companies in the San Francisco Bay area last week, and was intrigued by the range of products and services they're offering; you can see the details in my blog entries for the past week.

But I was also intrigued by some common themes that I heard from almost every company I visited. I'll itemize them briefly here, and then discuss each of them in more detail in the next few days.

Yourdon goes on to list his five themes:

  1. Email is broken
  2. Young adults use the internet in a different way than do 30- and 40-something professional workers
  3. People don't like to break context to grab additional information to perform a work task
  4. Most vendors believe that mobile devices will play a large role in the evolution of their products and services, but they're not sure what form it will take
  5. Web 2.0 may be over-hyped, and some of its vendors may not have a rational business model, but it's nevertheless "real"

OK, it's not as snappy as something Guy Kawasaki might come up with, but they're interesting nevertheless.

Yourdon also thinks that this crop of entrepreneurs has taken some of the lessons of the Big Flameout of Ought-One to heart.

Details Emerge in British Terror Case - New York Times

The ominous language of seven recovered martyrdom videotapes is among new details that emerged from interviews with high-ranking British, European and American officials last week, demonstrating that the suspects had made considerable progress toward planning a terrorist attack. Those details include fresh evidence from Britain’s most wide-ranging terror investigation: receipts for cash transfers from abroad, a handwritten diary that appears to sketch out elements of a plot, and, on martyrdom tapes, several suspects’ statements of their motives.

But at the same time, five senior British officials said, the suspects were not prepared to strike immediately. Instead, the reactions of Britain and the United States in the wake of the arrests of 21 people on Aug. 10 were driven less by information about a specific, imminent attack than fear that other, unknown terrorists might strike.

Let's recap a few things: British police, acting on a tip from someone close to the dopes planning this thing, put the machinery of investigation and surveillance in motion (including, it would appear, the cooperational services of foreign police and intelligence agencies). Their surveillance afforded them a complete view of this increasingly far-fetched, overhyped plot as it developed from an embryonic stage. It was all wound up far before anything approaching an operational plan had emerged.

And how does the rest of the civilized world react? With panic. With security theater that really qualifies as "security theater of the absurd."

It amazes me that, rather than simply rounding up, prosecuting, and punishing these guys without fanfare, while continuing to disrupt terrorist organizations through solid intelligence analysis and tradecraft, and policework, our governments have burnt millions of dollars and inconvenienced just as many with empty gestures. Worse, things are getting ugly for some travellers as the fear slowly ratchets up. Flights are now being disrupted or delayed nearly daily because some passengers look suspicious, or are wearing t-shirts with Arabic script, or because an iPod fell into a toilets

We're acting like terrorized people. Launches Free Hosting for MySpace, Facebook - Mashable!

That said, I think this is a powerful promotional tool for - like YouTube, ImageShack, Metacafe and others, they can attract more users by plugging in to existing communities (see Feeding the MySpace beast). And once they’ve attracted those new users, they can hopefully convert them to the paid plan, thus using Box LITE as a loss leader. Smart.

Like an insufferable ex-smoker, my conversion to widgevangelism has me seeing the wisdom of widgets everywhere. Today we can see unleashing LITE as a word of widget marketing tool:

  1. you upload files to your LITE account
  2. gives you a widget to include on your blog, MySpace, or Facebook page
  3. gets to promote and demo their service to a bunch of users (ie, all your friends)
  4. upsell, sit back, open checks

I think it's clever.

Google Apps for Your Domain

Google Apps for Your Domain

Now you can offer private-labeled email, IM and calendar tools to all of your users for free*, so they can share ideas and get things done more effectively. You can design and publish your organization's website, too. It's all hosted by Google, so there's no hardware or software for you to install or maintain.

I've been using the beta of Google's hosted service for email for a few months now, so Google has been handling all of's email with Gmail and Google Talk's web client. They've also thrown Google Calendar into the mix (neither of those last two features were advertised when they started offering this beta). The only difference between the service Google's announced today and what I'm using on is Google Pages. That would be because I never turned the feature on in my Google Apps for control panel. It's there, as is support for federating XMPP/Jabber/Google Talk.

My personal experience is that It's worked extremely well both as a web mail service and as a POP and SMTP mail host. It looks and feels like Gmail (it's not very customizable save for the odd graphic here or there) but it has taken a load off my web hosting account. You still get Google advertising on the edges of your email messages.

Given the choice, however, of wrestling with configuring and provisioning your own mail, calendaring, chat, and web services for a group of users, or just letting Google handle it (for free, no less), it seems like a no-brainer.

My guess is that hosted Writely and Google Spreadsheet services are next to be added to the list, along with an SME and larger organization-scale product, providing services for hundreds and thousands of users.

Bubblegeneration Strategy Lab

Yesterday, Paul left a great comment making fun of 2.0 "strategy" mentioning "viral funpacks".

It was pretty hilarious. But also pretty insightful. Why? Because the realization is slowly dawning in the Valley and other assorted 2.0 scenes of the world that "widgets" are the next big thing.

In no small part, this is due to the revolutionary Myspace music player - the widget that made Myspace more 2.0 than 2.0, by exploding the social value proposition.

Which raises some interesting thinking about the widgets sprouting on desktops and websites.

I started out thinking widgets were an eye-pleasing, but memory-sucking way of getting basic information onto your desktop or web page. Worse, they also tend to have a poor information-to-screen real-estate ratio. A well-designed, if spartan, web page has much more useful information density than a desktop littered in widgets or gadgets dripping in alpha channels, glassy finishes, drop shadows, and anti-aliased text. As an experiment, see if you can get as much useful information above the fold with Yahoo! Widgets (nee Konfabulator) as you can with a My Yahoo! page.

What I think I've neglected to see until now, is the way the widget, as a complete package for a very narrow channel of data or content (others would call it a microchunk or microcontent) can often fit the bill better than the full-on firehose of data that is blasted out in syndication formats like Atom or RSS. If a brand wants to leverage their fans' enthusiasm and networks, what's better: a one liner on a blogroll, or a widget on that same blog?

So I guess I've made the first step towards widgevangelism. It'll be a cold day in hell before I call them "viral funpacks," though.

Boing Boing: Universities put Hollywood ahead of students

On the heels of yesterday's post about USC's lunatic copyright policy, many readers have written in with more examples of copyright lunacy on USC and other campuses, instances in which scholarship is being trumped by a desire to appease the entertainment industry, enforcing rules that don't take any account of the limits put on copyright by lawmakers in order to preserve public rights and especially the right of scholars and researchers to pursue their work.

Cory's doing great job covering how USC and other universities misinform their students about copyright. I'm disappointed to see these institutions turning into Big Content's stooges, putting students and academic freedom in jeopardy for the sake of a single industry's business model.

Schneier on Security: What the Terrorists Want

I'd like everyone to take a deep breath and listen for a minute.

The point of terrorism is to cause terror, sometimes to further a political goal and sometimes out of sheer hatred. The people terrorists kill are not the targets; they are collateral damage. And blowing up planes, trains, markets or buses is not the goal; those are just tactics. The real targets of terrorism are the rest of us: the billions of us who are not killed but are terrorized because of the killing. The real point of terrorism is not the act itself, but our reaction to the act.

And we're doing exactly what the terrorists want.

Nobody has done more than our governments to help the terrorists achieve their objective of sowing fear to the point of disrupting our lives. By overreacting to specific threats and using fear to remove safeguards on government power, we are effectively no safer and feel less secure.

What we're doing now is panicking.

I once agreed with the idea that after September 11, 2001, everything had changed. I see that everything has changed, but I wish it hadn't: I wish we had tried much harder, in fact, to ensure very little changed in the wake of those attacks. Again, Bruce puts it well:

[O]ur job is to remain steadfast in the face of terror, to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to not panic every time two Muslims stand together checking their watches. There are approximately 1 billion Muslims in the world, a large percentage of them not Arab, and about 320 million Arabs in the Middle East, the overwhelming majority of them not terrorists. Our job is to think critically and rationally, and to ignore the cacophony of other interests trying to use terrorism to advance political careers or increase a television show's viewership.

The surest defense against terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. Our job is to recognize that terrorism is just one of the risks we face, and not a particularly common one at that. And our job is to fight those politicians who use fear as an excuse to take away our liberties and promote security theater that wastes money and doesn't make us any safer.

John Battelle's Searchblog: Fanpop!

John Battelle's Searchblog: Fanpop!

As they say, "We're a little bit of Digg, MySpace, Yahoo! Groups, and Yelp all mixed into one."

Users can create topical federations on just about anything, giving it a resemblance to Tribe's flexibility. With 24 broad 'channels', Fanpop leaves room for communities to cluster around a long tail of interests.

At that point my brain melted, my eyes rolled back into my head, my soul deflated, and I stopped reading...

EarlyStageVC: Venture 2.0 - Preamble

Peter Rip, a partner with early stage venture firm Leapfrog, has started a series on the evolution of the VC world, which he calls VC 2.0. Despite the fact that I'm calling for a moratorium on 2.0-ing things, this is clearly going to be an interesting set of essays.

These are his premises:

A belief in forward-averaging the returns assumes that history will repeat. The thesis of these essays is that the venture cycle has fundamentally changed for Information Technology and that formulae that worked over the past 20-30 years no longer broadly apply.
  • Globalization is both a risk and an opportunity with venture branding.
  • Capital is no longer scarce, nor is access to venture capitalists.
  • Information technology is no longer rarified and, in many cases, it is inexpensive.
  • Global 2000 Enterprises, once the 'go to' customer for any fledgling IT startups, no longer have the risk profile they once had for IT innovation.

With IPOs thin on the ground, yet capital (and access to venture capitalists) increasingly available, argues Rip, the VCs have entered into a world of stagflation. As an asset class, they're going to have some difficulty providing returns that justify their fees. So, whither VC? Cleantech or other types of diversification? Expand dealflow by bringing their capital to foreign startup markets?

The last point, about enterprise IT, is of particular interest to me. Is it really true that large businesses (say, greater than $1 billion in revenue per year) no longer have an appetite for technology from startups, or is it that, when capital is plentiful, entrepreneurs and VCs alike target the larger rewards of the mass market? There are 2000 companies in the Fortune 2000, but hundreds of millions of consumers out there looking to be entertained on the internet.

I'm keen to see the upcoming essays.

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) - Limited Beta

Well, this is pretty amazing:

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) - Limited Beta

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2) is a web service that provides resizable compute capacity in the cloud. It is designed to make web-scale computing easier for developers.

Just as Amazon Simple Storage Service (Amazon S3) enables storage in the cloud, Amazon EC2 enables "compute" in the cloud. Amazon EC2's simple web service interface allows you to obtain and configure capacity with minimal friction. It provides you with complete control of your computing resources and lets you run on Amazon's proven computing environment. Amazon EC2 reduces the time required to obtain and boot new server instances to minutes, allowing you to quickly scale capacity, both up and down, as your computing requirements change. Amazon EC2 changes the economics of computing by allowing you to pay only for capacity that you actually use.

Amazon EC2 Functionality

Amazon EC2 presents a true virtual computing environment, allowing you to use web service interfaces to requisition machines for use, load them with your custom application environment, manage your network's access permissions, and run your image using as many or few systems as you desire.

To use Amazon EC2, you simply:

  • Create an Amazon Machine Image (AMI) containing your applications, libraries, data and associated configuration settings. Or use our pre-configured, templated images to get up and running immediately.
  • Upload the AMI into Amazon S3. Amazon EC2 provides tools that make storing the AMI simple.
  • Amazon S3 provides a safe, reliable and fast repository to store your images.
  • Use Amazon EC2 web service to configure security and network access.
  • Use Amazon EC2 web service to start, terminate, and monitor as many instances of your AMI as needed.
  • Pay for the instance hours and bandwidth that you actually consume.

It's a virtual machine, delivered as a service, completely integrated with their S3 storage service; a virtual server solution that's competitive with other low-end offerings. The trick here is that other virtual server providers tend to be much smaller companies -- this allows anyone to run their apps on's infrastructure. In that sense, it's much more analogous to a collocated server (like you would get from, in which case it's an absolute bargain.

So, let's recap what has done here: commercialized their expertise in high-availability infrastructure management by letting people run Linux-based virtual appliances for a simple utility fee. They've made compute and storage utility services for a certain class of application. This won't be a way for a Global 200 company to run SAP, for example, but it would allow any SMB to run a custom application built on the LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, perl/PHP) stack. Web Services are taking on the cast of an operating system.

Proudly Serving My Corporate Masters: Fool Rappin' Coders

Now I'm tempted to start throwing down some rhymes myself, like an epic Tone Loc takeoff ("Compiled Thing" b/w "Funky Code Profiler") or my never-written parody of Snoop's "Gz and Hustlas" entitled "Devs and Testers" ("how many bugs in 06 will I be fixin? Every single one, to get the job done"). But instead I'll sit back and listen to my man Ytcracker (say it out loud) as he drops some computer science on tracks like "warez loder" and "view source". Sounds like Eminmen crossed with Bill Gates crossed with a $50 Casio keyboard--not bad.

Microsoftie discovers nerdcore, adds to the litany of bad pun-based hip hop.

CTO Blog | May we live in interesting times!

A company's ability to differentiate now resides in the exception-rich business processes that exist between applications, rather than inside the applications themselves. The business has been quick to pick up on this trend, and their focus is shifting to funding capabilities enabled by IT, rather than IT assets themselves. Making a case to spend four years and $50 million fielding a major IT asset is becoming harder; however justifying a project mixing integration, a rules engine and some new application components to deliver a tangible business capability has never been easier.

This is an interesting way to encapsulate the state of enterprise technology. My interpretation? That the enterprise packages or suites from companies like SAP and Oracle have reached the 80% level, where they provide enough functionality and coverage that a company can reliably automate many of their mission-critical business processes. They've become a platform—a framework, really—on which technology to handle the exceptions and deliver insight-fueling information can be built.

In a funny way, this puts the emphasis back on good, old-fashioned application architecture, design, and development. The integrated enterprise suites have raised the level where we draw the boundaries for platforms.

Companies used to build it all themselves, then the packages promised to do away with that. They're getting there. Coult it be that, in the end, the rich, integrated enterprise application suite will provide the capabilities to spark a new round of do-it-yourself?

Confused Of Calcutta » Blog Archive » More on Control and Complexity and Big

Big is necessary for Complex. But only when Complex itself is necessary. What I worry about is how often Complex is a construct of past hierarchies rather than a genuine need to solve a problem. I've heard phrases like "Don't Allocate, Isolate", "Don't Automate, Obliterate" for a few decades now. I've even read HBR and related articles with similar titles that long ago. So why doesn't it happen? Because of Unnecessary Complex.

Perhaps this isn't a deep thought from the CIO of DrKW, but it certainly crystallized some issues for me. Namely that complex processes require rigid structures and lots of people, but what happens when the underlying technologies that enable the process start hiding more and more of the complexity? Do you also collapse the size of the structures atop the process? Not necessarily.

GigaOM -- Cisco Place and Time Shifts With Arroyo

The move is yet another part of Cisco's bid to turn itself into a consumer centric company. As you might remember, it has spent over $6 billion and acquired companies like Linksys, KISS Technology and Scientific Atlanta. It has also made investments in consumer video offerings such as Akimbo and Cinema Now.

Arroyo, is the latest and perhaps the most crucial piece of the puzzle. Since Arroyo's products allow carriers - wireless, wireline and cable operators - to deliver video on demand to any platform: television, computer of mobile phone, Cisco now has acquired three must-have features of any future video offering.

All of this makes sense on a lot of levels. Cisco wants to expand beyond their core enterprise and carrier markets, so they turn to the home and media users. Happily, Cisco's going to drive high-end networking gear demand by creating a need on the audience's end. The piece-parts offered through Scientific Atlanta, Linksys, and KISS all address the issue of being able to deliver media, information, and software from the internet and proprietary networks (like cable MSOs) throughout the home. Arroyo's "DVR in the network" gives Cisco's service operator customers another option for delivering the experience, with the advantage that the delivery can be device-independent.

Everyone's looking at Microsoft, Apple, or Sony to try to "own the living room," but that assumes content delivered over IP and over some publicly-accessible network. No cable company wants to be disintermediated in this way, and neither will the telcos (once they roll fiber to the home). Cisco, with it's network infrastructure heritage, is playing the game by serving the existing delivery networks.

Business 2.0: Blogging for big bucks - Aug. 22, 2006

But here's what gives Arrington real distinction: He's pulling in $60,000 in ad revenue every month. That's 10 times what the site was making earlier this year, which was when Arrington, convinced of the potentially monstrous riches ahead, quit his day job as president of a startup to blog full-time. Real businesses, real money

With Internet-like speed, blogs have gone from self-indulgent hobbies to flourishing businesses. Real businesses, with real revenue streams from real advertisers.

Boing Boing, a four-person operation that bills itself as a directory of wonderful things, is on track to gross an estimated $1 million in ad revenue this year. The digital-media news site, headquartered in the second bedroom of a Santa Monica apartment, is set to post even more than that.

And, a site packed with sophomoric humor run by a lone guy in Lexington, Ky., is on pace to become a multimillion-dollar property. In short, some of the most popular blogs, long the bane of the mainstream media, are themselves becoming mainstream.

Blogs are the new screenplay/.com business plan/hedge fund.

I can't wait for this internet craze to blow over.

I really can't rave enough about Quick, well-written pieces that never fail to induce a sense of little-guy-shareholder outrage. Like Nike's $8 million failed experiment in non-Phil-Knight leadership. Or Hertz's new CEO getting drowned in Hertz options while being paid cash for option gains he's forgoing at his previous employer.

This site will either make me a revolutionary communist, or a CEO.

サ Isn't time to get rid of the pre-paid terror cell (phone)? | Between the Lines |

The story describes how such phones are sometimes purchased in large lots and then stripped of their prepurchased air time (which is worth more than the phone) for resale at a profit and how terrorists have probably been trained to use that scheme as their excuse if they get caught with a cache of phones.

By the way, this isn't the first time this has happened. Practically the same thing happened in Southern California last December. Regardless of which reason it is (terrorism or funky reselling scheme), it seems like the downsides of allowing pre-paid cell phones far outweigh any benefits.

Well, David Berlind either has no innate ability to detect sarcasm or his critical faculties have deserted him; he seems to have actually bought the idea that prepaid cell phones represent a massive security threat.

What possible terrorist plot could involve 1,000 cheap phones from a pay-as-you-go network? Cell phones (and many other electronic devices) are used as detonators for explosives. A thousand cell phones, absent some kind of explosive, isn't evidence of anything.

The truly stunning thing is that a van with 1,000 cell phones stripped of packaging makes complete sense if you're in the gray market phone business. Buy the cheap phones in bulk, unlock them from the carrier, and sell them to a distributor for a markup. The distributor then places them with small retailers. It makes even more sense for the buyers to be Arab (particularly in Michigan)

Instead of seeing the obvious explanation as the likely one, Berlind goes through the looking glass and sees plausibility as evidence of a conspiracy. Sure, these guys say they're just reselling these phones, but isn't that exactly what a terrorist would tell you?

Turns out, these guys were probably just going to resell these phones (which, incidentally, was the case in the California incident Berlind mentions).

So, no, it isn't time to get rid of prepaid mobile phones. Then again, maybe I've lost my ability to detect sarcasm.

Schneier on Security: Last Week's Terrorism Arrests

None of the airplane security measures implemented because of 9/11 -- no-fly lists, secondary screening, prohibitions against pocket knives and corkscrews -- had anything to do with last week's arrests. And they wouldn't have prevented the planned attacks, had the terrorists not been arrested. A national ID card wouldn't have made a difference, either.

Instead, the arrests are a victory for old-fashioned intelligence and investigation. Details are still secret, but police in at least two countries were watching the terrorists for a long time. They followed leads, figured out who was talking to whom, and slowly pieced together both the network and the plot.

Exactly. Schneier then goes on to say that, in the face of uncertainty regarding whether the conspiracy has been completely contained, a temporarily expanded airport security regime "seem(s) prudent." I disagree for a few reasons. First, would a more fruitful use of security resources be to expand the search of possible co-conspirators through the existing suspects' physical and logical connections? For this conspiracy to have worldwide elements or cells still undiscovered and operational, they would have had to, at some point, connect with the people already under arrest or investigation. This global anti-liquid dragnet isn't enhancing security, it's treating an extremely remote possibility as a risk.

As Cory and I pointed out, if this is a good idea now, it should have been a good idea since '94, and it'll be a good idea indefinitely.

Of course, that's why Schneier hopes these measures are temporary; in the long run, they're just handwaving:

Banning box cutters since 9/11, or taking off our shoes since Richard Reid, has not made us any safer. And a long-term prohibition against liquid carry-ons won't make us safer, either. It's not just that there are ways around the rules, it's that focusing on tactics is a losing proposition.

It's easy to defend against what the terrorists planned last time, but it's shortsighted. If we spend billions fielding liquid-analysis machines in airports and the terrorists use solid explosives, we've wasted our money. If they target shopping malls, we've wasted our money. Focusing on tactics simply forces the terrorists to make a minor modification in their plans. There are too many targets -- stadiums, schools, theaters, churches, the long line of densely packed people before airport security -- and too many ways to kill people.

And so many ways to sow fear.

Pakistan Says It Played Key Role in Inquiry - New York Times

Details of the plot remained sketchy even as officials released the names of 19 of the 24 suspects arrested Thursday. The suspects, who range in age from 17 to 35, have addresses in London, Birmingham and High Wycombe, a town about 50 miles northwest of London in Buckinghamshire. All the names appeared to be of Muslim origin; the suspects are all said to have been born on British soil.

According to British news reports, some of the suspects may have had links to Pakistan, perhaps through parents who immigrated to England. Newspapers here reported, however, that at least one of the suspects may have been a white Briton who converted to Islam.

While "links to Pakistan" inevitably raise the possibility of real connections to (whatever remains of ) al Qaeda, I stand by my initial response to this whole situation: I still think the reaction to this alleged plot has been governmental hysteria. It would be easy for a cynic to think that the interests of politicians and bureaucrats invested in prosecuting the Global War on Terror are actually best served when fear is escalated, and the threat is hyped.

Why are we being subjected to this elaborate security theater? Is there any reason to believe we're actually defending against something? Any evidence that supports expanding security procedures outside of Britain to the US, Canada, and beyond? What possible purpose is served by having a passenger fly from Houston to Seattle, or Newark to Memphis, without a bottle of Visine in his carry-on? The answer: none. These measures, just like the TSA's instant shoe fetish inspired by Richard Reid, are a knee-jerk reaction. A specific response like this is ineffective by design, and wasteful in its application.

It's worth pointing out that no particularly novel threat has been uncovered here: both the design (blowing up several long-distance planes simultaneously) and the method (mixing liquids to create an explosive, triggering the explosion with consumer electronics) are straight out of the well known "Operation Bojinka" plan hatched by Ramzi Yusef (one of the original World Trade Center bombers in 1993) and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in 1994. In other words, we are in no more danger today from passengers bringing liquids onto planes than we have been for the past 12 years. Cranking up the hysteria hasn't made us a bit safer, but decent investigative work has.

This plot, as I (and the Washington Post) understand it, was penetrated at the earliest stages by Western intelligence and police forces.

By late 2005, the probe had expanded to involve several hundred investigators on three continents. They kept dozens of suspects under close surveillance for months, even as some of the plotters traveled between Britain and Pakistan to raise money, find recruits and refine their scheme, according to interviews with U.S. and European counterterrorism officials.

So, in a stark demonstration of weak operational discipline, the conspirators, having been sold out by an associate, were known to the authorities for over a year, and their travel and communication monitored. The only reason this plot got as far as it did was because UK authorities permitted them. Nothing in the press indicates any reason to believe a wider, undiscovered element of this conspiracy is waiting to act in the United States, Canada, or any other country that has "upgraded" their airport security.

In the end, I think my friend Cory describes the problem well:

If this is a good idea now, then why won't it still be a good idea in a year? A decade? After all, terrorist plots will always exist in potentia (can you prove that no terrorist plots are hatching at this moment?) Until they handcuff us all nude to our seats and dart us with tranquilizers, there will always be the possibility that a passenger will do something naughty on a plane (even then, who knows how much semtex and roofing nails a bad guy could hide in his colon?).

The "security" handwaving the public is subjected to—the color coded alert states, the endless screenings, the press conferences—are a waste of time, a breeding ground for creeping paternalism, and demeaning to both the protectors and the protected.

I would rather any of the economic cost of this "heightened security" go to the intelligence and police work that actually prevented this plot from becoming dangerous.

Plot to Bomb Jets Is Thwarted in Britain - New York Times

Officials were requiring passengers to check everything except personal items like keys, wallets, and passports, which they had to carry in plastic bags. Drinks and other liquid items were banned.

Travelers were required to remove spectacles or sunglasses from their cases, and those travelling with infants were required to taste any baby milk in front of security officials.

Sweet fancy Moses. I'm as big a fan of living a long life, and not being blown out of the sky over the North Atlantic as the next fellow, but this has to be some kind of joke.

Every time I take off my shoes, and now, when I have to travel carry-on/gel/liquid free and suck back breast milk in front of a TSA employee, I can't help but feel that, somewhere, a would-be terrorist is laughing at me.

Anybody taking bets on how long before we discover this plot wasn't really the grave threat it's cracked up to be? Peter King called it "very, very serious," and "the real deal," which all the proof I need that this alleged threat is probably nothing at all.

Next Generation - Quakecon: id Targets Pirates

"I would just hazard a guess," Hollenshead said, "Nobody knows – but you may literally have more games being played illegitimately than being played legitimately. So when you’re giving up that much market to people who aren’t paying for the games, or who are buying the games in ways in which the developers aren’t getting paid for it, it creates a big challenge.

"Not only for the developers and publishers," pointed out Hollenshead, "But also for retailers, because they have to make bets when they buy their game inventory.” The result, says Hollenshead is that retailers look at piracy, and decide to place their multi-million dollar inventory commitments on a market that isn’t being pirated: consoles.

"This industry is trying to work on that kind of a problem. And it is a very serious problem. There isn’t any magical solution, or else we’d solve it."

I'm amazed to see this kind of thinking come from id, a company that built itself on file sharing.

If id is serious about competing with pirates, they need to increase the convenience of legitimate channels for purchasing their products: leverage online distribution. Then they can take advantage of the increased efficiencies of online distribution to lower prices.

Sure, that will be an uncomfortable challenge to their existing distribution and sales channels (ie, physical retailers), but id should see that the retailer's business model grows weaker and weaker as entertainment becomes increasingly digital.

Digital distribution does come with costs, but those costs can be defrayed when you let your customers take on some of the burdens for you, as they do with peer-to-peer file sharing.

Then again, perhaps it's a measure of the entertainment software industry's "maturity" when id's CEO sounds like a record company executive.

Whatever happened to... Mac OS X Leopard? | The Register

Piles is Apple innovation that it first demonstrated 14 years ago. Three years ago it was touted for inclusion in Panther, and we took the opportunity to discuss it with Gitta Salomon, one of the designers.

The researchers described Piles as "a less rigid categorization system" than folders. Testers liked the concept because it gave them more organizational flexibility in two important ways. Piles were used to defer categorizing items into a hard hierarchy - particularly useful for incoming stuff - and were more easily browsable than folders, too.

The increasingly cantankerous [Ed: shurely not possible] Andrew Orlowski, whose sub-Dvorkian shtick consists of bad-mouthing companies with a strong fan base (ie, Google or Apple) has taken on Steve Jobs and his Leopard (Mac OS X 10.6) preview keynote at the Apple World Wide Developer Conference.

The essence of Orlowski's complaint is that Apple's innovation with 10.6 doesn't match the "Vista 2.0" and "Hasta la vista, Vista" hype. Ignoring, for now, the fact that clever slogans designed to rally the Mac developer faithful may not actually be a sound measure of software innovation, I think Orlowski undersells some of what we saw of Leopard.

First, there's the blithe dismissal of TimeMachine, Apple's OS-level continuous data protection service. Given how central computers have become to everyday life, most of us are pretty cavalier about protecting our data. For example, if one were to have a drive failure that wiped out hundreds of dollars of iTunes Music Store purchases, without a backup, you'd have no option but to repurchase all that music. A lot of stuff (like pictures of your kids), can't be repurchased. TimeMachine addresses this issue, and does it with a user interface so simple and intuitive, everyone will be able to use it effectively. Seems like a pretty big improvement to me.

That interface, by the way, is enabled by another Leopard improvement: Core Animation. Core Animation lets developers create 3D animated interfaces for their applications easily. With TimeMachine, for example, you can fly through your email inbox or photo collection through time. If one were so inclined, one could even create Andrew's beloved "Piles" as an alternative way to organize and interact with files. I expect a lot of people will be so inclined, in fact, and we'll see a lot of applications try out new and interesting ways to manipulate data and files.

Leopard will be able to support these intensive new interfaces because it's a 64-bit OS (front-to-back, if you will: graphics, frameworks, scripting languages, BSD core). This also means that Leopard will be able to address huge amounts of physical and virtual memory.

That's only a quick look at just three of the features Jobs and company touted yesterday.

.Mac users mock Apple slogan during outage | CNET

Over the past four days, .Mac users have struggled to get its Web site publishing features, iWeb, and related file-share capabilities, iDisk, to work. Users have complained not only about the length of the outage, but also what they say is a tardy response from .Mac's technical support team, according to postings on Apple's discussion board.

Aside from the fact that, whenever you take a customer's money, you'd better deliver on your promises, Apple can't afford to botch .Mac.

Communicating, collaborating, and sharing are all things Apple should encourage its customers to do with the stuff they create and capture through the iLife suite, and .Mac could be central to making these activities painless. Companies like Google, Yahoo!,, eBay, and even Microsoft are investing billions in their service infrastructures. Given Apple's ambitions for .Mac, they should be, too (or they should build .Mac on's infrastructure, for example, not bother with the plumbing, and focus on the user experience).

Company laptops, privacy and you | Perspectives | CNET

This represents a narrow circumstance where an employee has effectively beaten a company's computer usage policy. Generally speaking, once employees sign away their privacy, the courts will side with the position of employers that electronic communications via company equipment are not private and can be used by employers.

Therefore, employees should not take from this case that all of a sudden their electronic communications on company equipment are private or privileged. By the same token, it appears that employers can strengthen their position by actually enforcing their computer usage policies on a somewhat regular basis.

In this case, email between an employee and her personal attorney were the communication in issue. The communication occurred while the employee was using a company laptop, and had agreed to a typical usage policy (ie, you have no expectation of privacy). The employee, using her personal AOL account, had corresponded with her attorney. She then deleted the relevant email messages before returning the computer to her employer. Later, the employer forensically retrieved those messages. The employee objected, contending that violated her attorney-client privilege, and the courts ultimately agreed.

Leaving aside the enforcement issue, this case raises the interesting question of what a company can legally consider to be their systems (where an employee has, by accepting the company's boilerplate usage policy, signed away their privacy). If an employee conducted personal communication, privileged or otherwise, using a web service such as Gmail, does that constitute using a company system? What if the company, rather than using a corporate WAN, simply used public infrastructure, like the internet? What happens if a company adopts a policy of allowing employees to use their own computers to do work?

Also, this seems a very North American (perhaps even just plain-old American) set of questions. Individual privacy protections are much stronger (for lack of a better term) in Europe.

Siggraph: Taking on fair use, privacy and DRM | CNET

[Sony Pictures Entertainment exec] Singer acknowledged that there will always be piracy from "those who have more time than money," such as college students, but that Sony's aim is to make content convenient and reasonably priced and reasonably restricted enough to prevent general working consumers from going to other channels.

Take a second look at that quote. OK, now let me tell you how that logic falls apart.

In the digital, networked world, creating data (content) still has a cost. Duplicating and distributing data, however, is very nearly free. The economics of computing and networking create that dynamic.

Singer is basically admitting that a determined customer (those people with more time than money) can break DRM. Well, once that happens, the cost of copying and distributing the DRM-free data is so low, that data is available to anybody for free. That's why every song in the iTunes Music Store, and every movie in theaters today, is available without restriction and for free on the internet.

Sony's aim of "reasonably restricted-enough" content is a fantasy: no content can be restricted enough to prevent its being unrestricted and shared. Singer and other Big Content executives would do better by focusing on the convenience and price of their services as a way of "competing with free." They already are, whether they like it or not.