Category: Technology

Oct 19 2004

EDS Agility Alliance

EDS put a big stake in the ground by declaring friends and foes yesterday when they created the EDS Agilty Alliance.

  • Foes: IBM and HP.
  • Friends: Cisco, Dell, EMC, Microsoft, Sun, Xerox (listed in alphabetical order presumably not to indicate any preference.)

When EDS acquired The Feld Group at the beginning of the year, Charlie Feld became EVP Portfolio Management – think of it as a role where the CTO and CIO report to him and he defines and builds both the product / service strategy and the internal systems to support the strategy (massive in EDS’s case.) One of Charlie’s classic moves whenever he becomes CIO somewhere is to lock down a finite set of well defined technology relationships to act as the backbone for all future buildout of technology. I remember a few examples of the top of my head – he did this at Frito-Lay with IBM (I think at one point, Frito-Lay was one of the largest users of OS/2 in the world) and Delta with Tibco.

Reading between the lines, EDS has decided enemy #1 and enemy #2 are IBM and HP respectively. The EDS Agility Alliance draws a line in the sand. If you add it up, you’ve got a “virtual company” that has $150 billion of combined annual revenue and $13.6 billion of annual R&D spending.

There are lots of good nuggets in the press release, including the signalling that “EDS will announce its application, business process and industry alliance members in the coming months.” (e.g. expect more to come.) If you are interested in the evolution of the high end of the IT services world, it’s worth a look.

Oct 3 2004

Firefox is the solution to Spyware

Several months ago I had a massive spyware problem. Today, I have none.

The solution – I replaced Internet Explorer with Firefox. That’s it. We’re better (after cleaning up my machine with Spybot – which is free.)

Before switching to Firefox, I went through the cycle of hell of trying the various anti-spyware programs while continuing to use IE. None of them worked – in most cases I’d get rid of “some” of the spyware on my computer, but within 24 hours it’d be back. The daily scans were time consuming (and often ridiculous – all my GOOD cookies would get deleted, IE settings would get changed, random weird things that never happened before would start happening, and I was constantly downloading “updates” that – in many cases – seemed worse than their predecessor. I played with the three most popular – Adaware, Pest Patrol, and Spy Sweeper – with no real satisfaction. I kept coming back to Spybot as the only one that consistently cleaned everything up, although it just got bad again within a day or two.

Ross (my IT guy) told me to try Firefox. I did. Problem solved. Within a week I was totally addicted to Firefox and my spyware problems were completely gone.

Last week, Bill Gates was quoted as saying “This malware thing is so bad,” he said in a speech at the Computer History Museum here. “Now that’s the one that has us really needing to jump in.” “I have had malware, (adware), that crap” on some home machines, he said.

After seeing this quote, I decided to run Spybot on my home machine and see what was on there. I hadn’t done this in a month. The result – I had three “bad cookies” – all benign. Obviously, Gates quote (and revelation) is hugely ironic since the vast majority of spyware is infecting machines due to security holes (and features) of Internet Explorer. I imagine that some of the spyware nasties will target Firefox as it gets more popular (there have already been a few mentions about Firefox security holes that got plugged quickly), but so far my personal experience has been remarkably positive.

I’ve used IE since version 3. I’m a loyal and happy Microsoft customer and partner (many of my companies are partners with Microsoft and I’ve always been a huge Microsoft fan.) But – I’m done with IE for now. And – thankfully – I’m done with the spyware circle of hell – including having to deal with all the anti-spyware programs on the market that don’t really work.

For now.

Sep 8 2004

Why Google Should Buy SCO

The famous “Do No Evil”, of course. Given some of the recent negative chatter on Google, I’ve been thinking of what bold move they could do that would cause most of the technology industry to stand up and cheer for them. How about buying SCO?

1. It’s cheap, only $60m or so.
2. Fire everyone (ok – maybe it’s $100m when you get done with all the winddown costs and golden parachutes).
3. Open source / GPL all of the SCO products in exchance for settling all the lawsuits.
4. Be done with all the SCO nonsense.

Disclaimer: I’m not a shareholder of either Google or SCO nor do I have any non-public information about either company.

Aug 31 2004

Is Free Web Conferencing Really Free?

Paul Berberian, chairman and founder of Raindance, wrote a provocative post today called Free Conferencing is Theft.  Paul knows this business extremely well – I was an early investor in Raindance (I left the board two years ago and am no longer involved in the company – but I continue to be a strong supporter and fan of it).

While Paul’s position is influenced by his role as a major investor in a leading web conferencing company, he describes clearly how the regulatory economics of the conferencing business works as well as the loophole that free conferencing companies are taking advantage of.  He makes the point that someone is paying for this and – eventually – if the cost gets big enough – “someone” will notice and the dynamics will change. 

Paul refers to the free Internet access business as an example of a bad business model that wasn’t sustainable that tried to take advantage of a shifting a cost disparity.  I know this all too well as an early investor in PeoplePC (now owned by Earthlink and a paid service) – we spent a lot of money and acquired 600,000 customers on the path to having a non-sustainable business model.  Part of our problem was the cost arbitrage we were trying to take advantage of – we thought we could provide retail ISP services at free prices but make up for it through our share of margin on computer sales, partner rebates, pull-through e-commerce sales, advertising revenue, and credit card incentives (all of these were revenue opportunities that we had that were associated with each new subscriber we acquired.)  While we weren’t arbitraging regulatory issues (as with free conferencing), we applied a business model that required scale to a well-established business infrastructure, and ultimately failed.  In hindsight, if we’d merely charged a commodity price for Internet access, we would have likely had a sustainable business. 

Ironically, one of the very visible free ISPs (NetZero) has turned into a very successful paid ISP (United Online).  The successfully transitioned enough of their large free customer base to a paid customer base – along with some smart financial engineering and good operational management – to use their initial “free” arbitrage position to create a sustainable and successful business.  For those of you enjoying “free conferencing calls” today – don’t get too used to “free”.

Aug 26 2004

Corporate Introduction to RSS

Last month Mediathink published a White Paper title RSS: The Next Big Thing On Line. It’s the best starter piece that I’ve seen so far for people – especially in a business context – that are trying to figure out the answer to the question “what is this RSS thing and why do I care.” It’s a short piece (seven pages) – about a third is an intro to RSS, a third talks about aggregator technologies (and gives my favorite – NewsGator – a great review), and the final third talks about implications of RSS on marketing, email, messaging, search engines, and rich media.

Remember – it’s an introductory piece – so if you are an RSS / blogging pro it’s unlikely that you’ll see any new information. But – if you are either trying to figure out RSS or trying to help explain to collegues or customers why they should care about RSS – this belongs in your document toolkit.

Aug 16 2004

ChangeThis: How To Be a Boor manifesto

Seth Godin’s ChangeThis project has officially launched. ChangeThis – in their words “is trying to create a new kind of media. A form of media that uses existing tools (like PDF files, blogs and the web) to challenge the way ideas are created and spread.” As one would expect from Seth, the content is stimulating, provocative, and easy to quickly digest.

I’ve agreed to host one of the manifestos on my site – I’ll be putting up a link to How To Be a Boor. It’s a great piece that talks about proper email ettiquite which – as email becomes ubiquitous – is useful to be reminded of.

Jul 31 2004

Where did all the fax machines go?

I was involved in a deal this week that finally closed at 4:40am PST on a Thursday morning. The lawyers were chasing down signatures until 3am PST.

Amazingly, several of the signatories in the deal did not have fax machines at their house. Now – the deal should have been done in such a way that everyone had signed the docs and they were in escrow well before close of business the previous day; it was totally unnecessary to be chasing down signature pages in the middle of the night. However, it never occurred to me (and – apparently – it also didn’t occur to the lawyers who were the ones responsible for getting the signatures) that the people involved wouldn’t have fax machines at home.

Interestingly, everyone had Internet access and a printer. The problem wasn’t getting the documents to them (although no one really appreciates having to wake up in the middle of the night to “sign just one more document.”) However, once the document was signed, the idea of driving to the office at midnight to fax one page was ludicrous. Fortunately, everyone involved that didn’t have a fax machine was in the bay area, which was where the lawyers were, so the couriers had a busy, but lucrative night.

This deal had a real timing deadline as we had a number of announcements that assumed we would be closed before the markets opened in the morning. Since the acquirer was a public company, the timing was critical and not easily (or conveniently) changed. We got it done, but it was close.

I’ve been a long time user of integrated printer-fax-copier-scanner technology (I used to have three separate devices and no scanner – I dumped this as soon as the “all-in-one” models came out several years ago.) I currently have an HP Laserjet 3330 in each of my houses and my folks have a different, but similar model at their houses. When you can pick up an HP LaserJet 3015 for $299.99 I just don’t know why you wouldn’t at least have a low end “all-in-one” machine around for those unexpected late night emergencies.

So – while it’s not Christmas shopping season yet – consider putting this on your next “computer buying spree list” if you currently don’t have a fax machine. With all of our current technology, until electronic signatures work and are widely accepted, fax machines will continue to be useful.

Jul 22 2004

Email Ain’t Dead

I’m an email junkie. As a user, I not-so-fondly remember Compuserve, Novell MHS, and Pine. As an investor, I’ve been involved in Email Publishing (first email service bureau), MessageMedia, Infobeat/Exactis, Critical Path, Postini, and Return Path. Recently there’s been a lot of noise about how email is on the decline. I don’t understand this as I use it more than ever and see its adoption continuing unabated.

Matt Blumberg has a great, thoughtful post on email that’s worth reading if you have anything to do with the email business. Matt’s the CEO of Return Path and he acknowledges that his post is self-serving, but it’s content rich and right on the money.

Jul 15 2004

I’m a Firefox Convert

I switched from Netscape to Internet Explorer when Windows 98 came out. Go figure. I’ve been stubbornly using IE and refused to even look at Mozilla / Firefox given that I spend so much of my time in email and I always felt (incorrectly) that Outlook and IE would be better integrated than Outlook and Firefox.

I’ve grown increasingly frustrated with IE lately for a variety of reasons, including some bugs that I can’t figure out workarounds for, occassional grungy performance issues, endless popup Windows and Spyware problems, and all the well publicized security issues.

I decided to break down and give Firefox a try. I’ve been using it for two weeks and love it. If you are a heavy browser user and still using IE, you should absolutely consider Firefox. Following are some quick reasons:

  • Much faster / more consistent performance
  • No Spyware popups
  • Tabbed browsing (really wonderful for the heavy user)
  • Great password manager
  • Bookmark sync to an FTP server (for managing bookmarks across multiple screens)
  • Extensive Extensions (

As a NewsGator user, there’s even an extension for subscribing to an RSS feed in NewsGator.

Thanks Ross for pushing me over the edge.

Jul 14 2004

Software Durability and Societal Infrastructure Software

Dan Bricklin has a great essay on his site today titled Software That Lasts 200 Years. Dan is indubitably one of the world’s great software visionaries and his thoughts are always worth reading.

This essay was especially poignant for me since the first significant custom software application I wrote is still in use today. I wrote the Bellflower Dental System (a patient management, scheduling, and insurance billing system) for a large dental practice in 1985 and deployed it in 1987 (amazingly, their phone number is the same as it was in 1985, except the area code has changed from 310 to 562). Bellflower Dental Group is a large practice (at the time, they had over 50,000 patients) and the system was incredibly complex. My first company – Feld Technologies – continued to do work on it through 1993 when I sold the company to AmeriData. AmeriData continued to support the application until I left in 1995 since by that time I was pretty much the only person around that could modify the software without breaking everything. Once a year, until about 1999, I got a call from my friends at Bellflower and made a trip out there to tune things up. In 1999, we had to modify a bunch of the system for the year 2000 bug (yes – we had it everywhere – who would have thought that this would still be working 15 years later in 1985). I hired Dave Jilk – who was my partner in Feld Technologies and between gigs – to do this since I simply didn’t have time to do it. After this experience, we finally hooked them up with some local consultants that knew DataFlex – the language the system was written in (amazingly DataFlex – is still around today) and the software – as far as I know – has continued to work. Twenty years is a long time for any software system – especially the first one I actually created.

Now – a dental billing system is not an example of what Dan calls Societal Infrastructure Software (SIS), but it is an example of Software Durability, which is one of the tenants of Societal Infrastructure Software. In his essay Dan states, “We need to start thinking about software in a way more like how we think about building bridges, dams, and sewers. What we build must last for generations without total rebuilding. This requires new thinking and new ways of organizing development. This is especially important for governments of all sizes as well as for established, ongoing businesses and institutions.”

Dan’s argument for the need for Societal Infrastructure Software includes:

  • Meet the functional requirements of the task.
  • Robustness and long-term stability and security.
  • Transparency to determine when changes are needed and that undesired functions are not being performed.
  • Verifiable trustworthiness of all three of the above.
  • Ease and low cost of training for effective use.
  • Ease and low cost of maintenance.
  • Minimization of maintenance.
  • Ease and low cost of modification.
  • Ease of replacement.
  • Compatibility and ease of integration with other applications.
  • Long-term availability of individuals able to train, maintain, modify, determine need for changes, etc.

Dan uses the analog analog of civil engineering in his essay. The first formal computer science classes I took at MIT was Course 1.00: Introduction to Computers and Engineering Problem Solving so the analog struck close to home. Dan is clear that these ideas are only for one part of the software world. He specifically is responding to his thoughts as a result of writings and actions of the Massachusetts State Executive Office for Administration and Finance as it deals with its Information Technology needs.

The essay is definitely worth reading if you are in the software industry.