Tom Petrocelli's take on technology. Tom is the author of the book "Data Protection and Information Lifecycle Management" and a natural technology curmudgeon. This blog represents only my own views and not those of my employer, Enterprise Strategy Group. Frankly, mine are more amusing.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

A House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand

I've been watching the fratricidal spat between Sun and NetApp with increasing interest. Since I started working for, I've been much more immersed in philosophy and mechanics of intellectual property. Since patent litigation is complex and I'm not a lawyer (nor do I play one on TV), I am not going to comment on the validity of the suits. If you are technical enough, go ahead an read the patents involved and the legal filings. Draw your own conclusions.

What I don't understand is why there wasn't another way. Patent suits in the computer industry are notoriously bad for both companies. For those without long-term memory, please recall the patent infringement suit that Crossroads brought against a bunch of companies including Chapparal. Look how that worked out for them. They are not exactly Brocade now, are they? That might be a bad comparison given Brocade's recent legal woes but you get the picture.

In the computer industry, patent litigation breeds several effects. One, people stop buying stuff from both companies. Let's face it, do you want to buy a product that the company may not be able to sell in the future. Anyone who doesn't think that the SCO suit effected the adoption of LINUX is kidding themselves. The result of this suit will be to slow down sales of NetApp boxes as much as the ZFS file system. Since Sun is giving it away as open source, you have to wonder who this will hurt more, at least in the short term.

The second effect is to reduce the collaboration so necessary to the functioning of the industry. Suits of this nature build mistrust and fear. This, in turn, makes it less likely that companies will want to work together on certain projects. Who wants to work with the folks that might sue them tomorrow.

What is almost sad is how these two companies have let an opportunity pass by. That's a polite way if saying they had a chance here and screwed it up. Let's face it, Sun's storage offerings have always been weak. They are the almost-rans of the storage industry.

NetApp is constantly fighting for business against the stronger EMC, IBM (with its legions of loyal customers), and a host of smaller, nimble competitors. A connection with Sun would have benefited both. Sun has the breadth of hardware and software products and NetApp the storage strength. Instead of beating the heck out of each other, they should have decided to work together, whatever that takes.

I firmly believe that intellectual property is the cornerstone all industries, especially technology industries. It does need to be protected strongly. However, like all assets, it's there to be used constructively. This is not a good use of valuable assets. Instead, the patents are being used as blunt weapons. Sort of like using a gold bar to beat someone upside the head, rather than buying food.

So, here's my message to Sun and NetApp, two companies I respect - Stop fighting like dysfunctional siblings. Instead, bury the hatchet now (but not in each other's heads) and work together. I will even propose something radical - a merger. I'm sure the financial people will tell me I'm stupid but from a market perspective, it makes sense. You would end up with two stronger companies, better positioned to compete with the tech companies emerging in Asia and the already strong domestic competitors.

Make love, not war!

DISCLAIMER: Now that I work for another company other than my own, I need to point out that this blog is all my own thoughts and opinions. I do not represent in it any of the positions of my company. If you think it's stupid, then I'm the one you should blame. If you like it, then I'm brilliant but so is for hiring me. While I'm entitled to my opinions, when I'm doing my thing as an executive, I keep some of them to myself.

Friday, September 14, 2007

SCO Gets Pinned To the Mat

It looks like we are finally winding down the sad history of SCO. For those who have been living in a cave these past few years. SCO has been locked in a brutal legal battle with some of the software industry's heavyweights such as IBM and Novell. Before you start feeling sorry for them, their wounds are self-inflicted.

SCO was once an early purveyor of UNIX on PCs. That may not seem radical now but in the late 1980's it was completely insane but very cool. Their products were good but the company foundered and sold its assets to what was then Caldera, one of the many Linux companies started in the 1990's. So ended SCO Phase 1.

Caldera then changed its name to SCO and abandoned any pretense of selling software. Instead, they sent nasty letters to Linux customers accusing them of absconding with SCO's intellectual property and threatening legal action. They then went about suing companies involved in Linux, picking on IBM especially.

One problem: They didn't actually own the copyrights to UNIX. Oops! According to court documents, when the original SCO bought the rights to UNIX from Novell (who acquired them from AT&T), they got licenses to distribute UNIX but not the actual copyright for the software. In fact, Novell explicitly kept the copyrights for themselves. When SCO phase 2 realized this, they claimed that they should have had them and it was a misunderstanding on Novell's part. The judge didn't see it that way. Now, you can't sue someone for misusing something that isn't yours to begin with. So SCO had nowhere to go and might actually end up owning Novell money. With that in mind, SCO filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. While not as bad as liquidation, it's not likely they can continue to exist when they own and do practically nothing of value.

Usually this would be sad, but not in this case. This is an example of an the worst sort of patent troll - the highwayman. Unlike many trolls who have legitimate intellectual property and only want a fair deal fro a license, SCO is the sort that lies in wait and then threatens someone with a loaded pistol. Only in this case, there were no bullets in the gun. Once they ran into someone (Novell) who was bigger and unimpressed, they got their clock cleaned. They were shooting blanks, so to speak.

Thus, we shall let's raise a glass in remembrance of SCO phase 1. Too bad what happened to them. Let's laugh at SCO phase 2 and hope that they serve as an object lesson to those who only want to disrupt and suck on the teet of technology, and not create. They will get their just desserts.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Webkinz: Ceti Eels for Kids

In the Star Trek movie "The Wrath of Khan", the bad guy Khan uses something called a Ceti eel to control the Captain and First Officer of a starship. A horrid looking thing, it crawls in through the ear, wraps around your brain stem, and takes control of your mind. Lovely. The fine marketeers of the toy company Ganz have created the kids equivalent of this mind controlling horror and have called it a Webkinz.

On the surface, a Webkinz looks pretty harmless. It is a stuffed animal. As a stuffed animal, it does what all stuffed animals do - it lays there waiting to be picked up and hugged. Pretty benign so far. Do not be fooled. A Webkinz is an insidious creature, lurking about, waiting to strike.

And strike it does. When your kid gets their Webkinz, they are instructed to go to a website where they can create an online version of their cuddly little friend. The online version, unlike the stuffed one, is a more demanding master. You have to feed it and take care of it or, to quote my daughter, "IT WILL DIE DADDY!" Feeding it is not free.

They give you some of whatever currency you need to buy things for your Webkinz. As is the case in real life, when that runs out you have to use real money to get more of the local currency so that you can continue to care for your online pet. Or "IT WILL DIE".

Simply feeding the damn thing is not enough. You have to buy things to make it happy. Since, all of your kids' friends have these, yours cannot be the only Webkinz who doesn't get the right trinkets. There's a lot of tween jonesin going on here.

What I especially hate is that they draw kids into this by playing on emotions that are especially heightened at this age. The need to belong and to nurture. The need to have nice things and, like all kids, the desire for pets. Webkinz plays off of these primal needs to draw kids in and then make their unsuspecting parents pay. Otherwise, your kid is humiliated and their little online friend "WILL DIE DADDY
!" Did I mention that the Webkinz will "DIE!"

This type of bald faced manipulation is one of the least desirable aspects of marketing. When you do it to kids, it's truly awful. It is a misuse of technology and one of the worst aspects of capitalism. To make a child care about something that is not real and is designed solely to separate parents from their hard earned dollars (money better saved on college) is inexcusable.

So, with all the other challenges of parenthood, we now have to deal with these greedy bastards using the Internet to manipulate our own kids to get at our wallet. In the meantime, my child will just have to learn that on the Internet, as in real life, things die. That's the fate of this Webkinz, harsh as it is. At least I don't have to pay the vet to do it or bury something in the backyard afterwards.

Thanks a bunch Ganz. I hope your kids put you in a home someday and refuse to visit.