Monday Night Free Software

I forgot to post for last week’s book giveaway, what with Defrag and everything I was preoccupied.

Tonight I am putting up 10 license for the best in class NetNewsWire and/or FeedDemon RSS client applications for Mac and Windows respectively. The way it will work is that the first 10 people to comment win, please specify which app you want a license for.

PS- I still use NetNewsWire on my Mac, there’s no way I could read as many feeds as I do with an online reader. Plus, I like the integration with my blogging editor and del.icio.us, among many other features.

Bloggers Strike Imminent

This is amazingly mind numbing. There is a writers strike on in Hollywood and it’s barely registering on the pages of the LA Times, much less around the country. This lack of attention is escalating in a manner similar to what my 3 year old does when he’s not getting his way, and now bloggers are going on strike in support of the writers. In the words of the first comment:

“Oh no.. How will we survive for one day without blogs? President Bush needs to step in and resolve this.”

PS- The only thing that is suffering greater than organized labor in this pathetic display is the vapidity of the entertainment industry, which thinks it is far more relevant and essential than the rest of us do.

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EventTracker Update

Sorry to keep posting with this but I can’t help it, EventTracker is so cool. 16 people signed on and twittered OOW today resulting in 371 tweets. Not bad for the first time out, and considering that we didn’t have this groups functionality even a week ago, very cool.

Into the Lion’s Den: Oracle OpenWorld

Today was a milestone day for me in my professional life. After nearly a decade of SAP, culminating in my stint with the “attack Oracle” team, I ended up at Oracle OpenWorld as their guest sitting across the table from co-president Charles Phillips. BTW, OOW is frickin huge… I thought the Sapphire events were impressive but OOW is much larger and goes for the full week.

I twittered the meeting with Phillips but in the interests of providing some context I want to reconstruct it and point out a few observations. First and foremost, Phillips is like Bill McDermott at SAP in that he is always on message, confident, and in control of himself and the environment. These are not insignificant qualities, they convey a sense of purpose that is palpable, however unlike McDermott, Phillips has a sense of distance about him.

I don’t want to take cheap shots at Phillips but I noticed a couple of things about his style. First and foremost, he is very practiced and there is not a word that comes out of his mouth that he doesn’t intend you to hear. His smart answers are definitely smart and I found myself nodding in agreement on more than one occasion, his thinking is far ahead of most of us.

When confronted by a tough question that he doesn’t want to answer, well he answers the question he wants to answer and moves on. We had more than a couple of points where we could have nailed him in a contradiction but I think we all wanted to avoid coming off as playing gotcha with him.

Lastly, there was only one point at which I felt he was talking extemporaneously and that was when I asked him about his reaction to the announcement that Cognos was getting acquired by IBM. Of course, it would have been hard to be well prepared for that given that the deal was just announced.

There were a couple of things that were clearly posturing on his part. For example, he took the opportunity when asked about third party maintenance to suggest that if you don’t own the IP you can provide end-to-end support “unless you break the law”. That flies in the face of Oracle’s own efforts to provide support for Red Hat, even though one of my Oracle friends tried to argue that open source doesn’t count. The enterprise apps that are the target of third party maintenance feature “open code” meaning the customer gets the code with the software.

Phillips also suggested that “acquired innovation” was a term he coined to describe Oracle’s model for acquiring startups and having Oracle take on the burden of the backoffice while they do what they do best. I got the sense that Phillips definition of startups is not what most people in the Valley would define as such. Personally, I think Phillips thinks of acquired innovation as acquiring maintenance and then hoping the products become more “sales scalable” through Oracle’s formable distribution capability.

After the meeting, the Irregulars discussed this “acquired innovation” topic and I don’t think anyone was buying it. To us it sounded like the same old M&A strategy with a new label.

SAP is very much in Phillips sights, he continually refers to the company and differentiates. He suggested that SAP will have it’s hands full with BOBJ and therefore not make any more acquisitions, is unable to support the development of new products in light of current product portfolio requirements, and lastly, will be unable to deal with changing economics of the software business.

Phillips echoed sentiments I heard at SAP that customers don’t want end-to-end multi-tenant hosted solutions. In fact, he argued that because Oracle offers a private database option that they are uniquely able to capture government and other accounts that are prohibited from allowing their data to be on hosted datacenters. Quite honestly, I found this hard to believe but was unwilling to argue the point absent of factual data to support my own position.

One comment that he made about subscription pricing caught my attention, he said (to paraphrase) “if you look at the numbers you will find that saas subscription models are more lucrative after 2 1/2 years than perpetual licenses”. I would like to see that data, but tend to agree with him even absent of the data.

On Oracle’s partner ecosystem Phillips stated firmly that Oracle now has more people on the “Oracle practice” than SAP, both in terms of partner companies and people. Again, can’t argue with him either way but we did have a discussion among the Irregulars and there were some concrete data points about SAP attempting to take more consulting revenue and alienating partners to the benefit of Oracle.

It was an interesting meeting and while Phillips doesn’t have the passion and conviction that Hasso Plattner has, he also doesn’t have the same job as Hasso. Phillips is impressive and I’m thankful to my hosts at Oracle for arranging the meeting. I’m heading back up there through the week, there’s lot’s of good content and interesting people to meet.

With Michael Krigsman(sitting):

That’s Karen Tillman, Senior Director Vice President Corp Communications, in there, she worked with Jake to setup the blogger program. Karen is definitely not what I expected from someone with Oracle Marcom… no taser strapped to her hip, no brass knuckles at the ready… just a competent hard working professional.

The hardest working guy in the blogosphere… Dan Farber. I see Dan literally everywhere and it’s always a pleasure.

My press pass, I’m gonna save it.

The Danger of Incrementalism

The title of this post is a little cryptic, so allow me to explain. Big companies have repressive cultural dynamics and decision making cycle that result in important strategic initiatives taking a really long period of time to emerge and when they do the compromises that are made in order to get consensus from the range of power centers that have to submit their consent means that the thing they intended to deliver looks really different when it emerges.

Let’s take NBC Direct, the recently released video download service from NBC. The consensus appears to be that the service is constrained by technology requirements, limited in functionality, and imposes use rights that are so constrained as to make the service of little value to users.

Each one of these decisions likely resulted from different NBC groups have a myopic and conflicting view of what NBC Direct was supposed to do. NBC Direct is not a video download service, it’s an entertainment channel and while NBC would not permit their network broadcast to run on specific brands of televisions or select cable systems, inoperable after a predetermined number of days, and choked full of so many ads that the amount of ad time eclipses the actual content… but amazingly that is just what they did with NBC Direct.

Some of the decisions about the technology, specifically the requirement for IE and WMA are easy to understand given the networks long affiliation with Microsoft. Having said that, these decisions are still wrong and hurt the service because, well most obviously it takes 7% of the market off the table, Mac users. Similarly the decision to not allow download to iPod further constricts the addressable market for NBC.

Given that the service relies on Microsoft’s DRM technology so the vague promises that Firefox and Mac support are coming are thin.

Other decisions, such as the downloads expiring 7 days after they are posted are really impossible to understand. To be clear, the downloads don’t expire 7 days after downloading, they expire 7 days after NBC posts them. What this means is that if you download a video on the 1st day of availability you will have 6 days and change to enjoy it, but if you download the video on the 6th day it will expire in less than 24 hours. I can only imagine this decision was driven by some network scheduling executive who insisted that viewers only have access to the episode of any show made available for the week that it is current.

Lastly, this service has dumps so many advertisements on the downloads that it’s comical. This again reflects an incremental decision driven not by the quest to capture as much reach and attention as they could, but to accommodate advertising execs and the commitments they surely made on the backend to satisfy advertisers who are increasingly moving away from TV to online.

NBC Direct is a lame service that suffers from technology and usage restrictions, all of which were avoidable and predicted by historical failures at competing services. Apparently, nobody at NBC kept asking “what objective do we want to accomplish here” before allowing the service to become henpecked by a thousand competing requirements. Like Chris at NewTeeVee says, I’d recommend that you just don’t bother with NBC Direct.

UPDATE: I realized that the title of this post is still a little too cryptic. What I am attempting to say is that any one of the decisions that NBC made with Direct could have been enhanced if they maintained a clear view as to what their purpose was with the service, but even in the absence of that sense of purpose none of the individual tactical decisions referenced about would sink Direct, it is the totality of missteps that will make this fail.