Chrome Not Yet a Platform

This is perhaps the biggest exposed flank that Google has with Chrome:

Extensions could be a critical weakness. Google doesn’t have a great track record for bringing out the community to participate in its projects, and without the extensive plug-in catalog that Firefox has collected, Chrome won’t displace it.

[From Chrome: Nice, But Not a “Killer” Browser Just Yet – GigaOM]

Platforms are declared all the time, but it is only in the few that we see legitimate community supported platforms as evidenced by extensive third party add-ons and extensions. Firefox is just such a platform.

In the end it may matter little to the mass market because while I don’t have any statistics on the rate of extension/plug-in uptake in firefox, I can’t imagine it’s a large percentage of the overall user base. But that number could in fact be significant and just as the act of downloading and installing a new browser did not dramatically limit Firefox, the act of extending Firefox with a plug in may be more common than I am allowing and in that case Google will have a challenge if they are interoperating with Firefox extensions.

I won’t switch to Safari even though it is faster than Firefox by a wide margin because I can’t take my extensions and plug-ins with me. Here’s my list of must-have extensions and plug ins:

  • Feedly
  • Session Manager
  • Better Gmail 2
  • Google Notebook
  • Flip4Mac and Quicktime
  • Silverlight

I am also using a really neat extension from Outwit to extract data from web pages, like HTML tables into Excel, links and feeds, and source code.

The End of Bell Labs

Yeah they will still be doing things but Bell Labs not doing basic research just isn’t Bell Labs…

Alcatel-Lucent, the parent company of Bell Labs, is pulling out of basic science, material physics and semiconductor research and will instead be focusing on more immediately marketable areas such as networking, high-speed electronics, wireless, nanotechnology and software.

[From Bell Labs Kills Fundamental Physics Research | Gadget Lab from]

Back to Business

Summer is over… I took my son to first day of school today and the hustle and bustle of not only school but also traffic reminded me that the long slow month of August is history. I was out on vacation last week but today is back to business.

While I have been writing more about public policy and non-tech items I find interesting these last few months, I have not be totally ignoring the tech world either; I simply found little exciting or interesting in tech these last few months.

This is not surprising and indeed it fits with a consistent pattern of 5’ish years of innovation followed by 3’ish years of digestion. So what does that historical pattern suggest about our immediate future? Probably nothing more than what we are seeing right now, which is less enthusiasm for the new “new” and much more attention being paid to making work what we already have.

With that in mind, what are the big challenges that are facing the tech world? Here’s my list, which I will reserve the right to modify after more thought on the subject:

  1. Economic uncertainty: Clearly this is a factor with tech being no less insulated than any other business sector. Across the board people are impacted by energy costs, consumer products inflation, food prices, and job market uncertainty, strongly so for unskilled labor and students. All of these factors conspire to constrict the flow of capital for business creation, as well as restrict corporate budgets for projects deemed more speculative than predictable.
  2. Advertising market chaos: The low value being attached to online advertising and social network campaigns is going to remain a key issue for companies relying on advertising for their business model.
  3. Enterprise plaque: Despite the inroads that SaaS companies have made into enterprise accounts, the fact remains that the entrenchment that the MISO (Microsoft/IBM/SAP/Oracle) has means there is little structural change in that market. The poor marketplace performance of SAP’s BBD demonstrates that traditional enterprise companies can’t easily straddle a market with two business models that feature different economics, delivery, support, and sales processes. This reality will dissuade other companies from attempting this hat trick, and because few companies will take the tough steps to remake themselves beyond the imagery of a SaaS business, well it’s more of the same on premise world we have been living in.
  4. SaaS economics: Speaking of SaaS, the economics of that business model is increasingly coming under scrutiny. Salesforce’s stock has been in a tailspin since last week amid concerns about slowing growth, but that’s only half of the issue. The simple fact of the matter is that CRM not only is experiencing a slowdown in growth, they also aren’t making a lot of money… the irony is that Salesforce is having a great year from a revenue standpoint, their revenue per employee is a right up their with SAP but the other side of that coin is that their net income per employee is pretty grim. I’m not singling out Salesforce for criticism, but they are a good proxy for the overall health of the SaaS market and right now it’s looking a lot more like the telecom market with high churn rates and and corresponding sales and marketing expenses that take a big bit out of the bottom line.
  5. New markets: BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) have been collectively the gleam in the eye of many software executives for the last 15 years. The reality is that each market has it’s own challenges to success but in general it’s a tough nut to crack and a very expensive strategy. The irony is that two enormous markets in terms of spend often get ignored even though the prospects for success are much more predictable, I am referring to Japan and the EU.
  6. Grab bag: Distribution challenges for consumer applications remain, even with Facebook… carriers still have way too much control over mobile platforms, despite the inroads the iPhone has made… broadband penetration is good but speeds are way too low… regulatory policy at the federal and state levels isn’t disruptive to the status quo and intellectual property law badly needs a makeover.