Oh, what to write about Sunday night?
Sunday must be the hardest night to do a keynote, especially at Oracle OpenWorld. People have been flying all day or the day before and have traveled great distances — 19 percent came from EMEA while 70 percent came from North America — so they’re tired and running on a different time zone’s clock. So I get it.
Nevertheless, Oracle continued a tradition of mediocrity with two keynotes the first by Intel President, Renee J. James and the climax by founder and CTO, and newly appointed Executive Chairman, Larry Ellison. Each presentation had its merits but they could have been better. For some reason each speaker felt a need to recapitulate the history of technology since the invention of the wheel, which got a little tedious.
On the plus side, the companies are doing some very cool R&D that is translating into products that help manage both the big data tsunami and help lock down data so that those nasty people in Eastern Europe and the People’s Liberation Army in China, and yes, the NSA, will be thwarted as they try to figure out how I like my latte.
Best ideas from my vantage point — embedding database functions in silicon to make them extra fast and using silicon photonics to make the connections at the chip level even faster. So far these advances seem aimed at bulk commercial data processing but I can see huge upside as these vendors apply all of this to a single problem like molecular modeling or code breaking.
Ellison gave a survey of accomplishments from the last year touting all of the apps his company has built and that list is impressive. However, the proof of the pudding at this conference for me will involve how these points get lined up into end-to-end business process support. I hope that’s where this is going because so far it seems instead like the company has reinvented its legacy products for the cloud rather than re-imagining the business processes. Hope I am wrong.
However, it must be said that both speakers seemed to tire as their talks went on. James got giddy as she made what seemed like a few small unforced errors and Ellison decided on an alternative order for his slides even while his remote clicker went on the fritz yet again, “Backup two slides, please.”
James didn’t seem to know the conference’s title is Oracle OpenWorld and not Oracle World. I know this sounds picky but it leads one to question how much practice the speakers put in and how well rehearsed the whole event is. Maybe I am spoiled by Salesforce’s crispness and manic attention to presentation details. But that’s the way it ought to be when you are addressing your global customer base in your annual address.
We’ll see how it goes today. Over and out.
Note: In a bit of operator error an earlier version of this post clipped off the first para. Here it is restored.
Microsoft announced its selection of Satya Nadella to be the third Microsoft CEO today and I wish him well. In a flurry of announcements, Bill Gates also stepped down as Chairman of the Board and will re-integrate himself into product development as a kind of guru in residence. I wish him well too.
Heck, I wish everyone over there well. Microsoft is too important to the technology industry generally and software in particular for them to continue the holding pattern they’ve been in for the last several years.
Nadella’s email to the company, which was widely distributed, contains a section headed, “Why are we here?” Among the reasons Nadella gives is this: “As we look forward, we must zero in on what Microsoft can uniquely contribute to the world. The opportunity ahead will require us to reimagine a lot of what we have done in the past for a mobile and cloud-first world, and do new things.” Exactly.
I agree but I am not sure it’s enough. If I had Bill’s cash I would purchase a copy of Brynjolfsson and McAfee’s new book, The Second Machine Age for every employee and I’d make it mandatory reading. The central idea of the book, and the thing I think Microsoft needs, is an understanding that we’ve passed a major milestone. Up to now we’ve built increasingly powerful and complex technologies that automate away huge hunks of everyday tasks. Since its beginning, Microsoft has done this very well.
But the next phase will be all about how we leverage technology to do things that have never been thought of before. To invent things from whole cloth. Microsoft has a lot of very sophisticated technologies in stock from its sensing technologies that make its video games so realistic to its database, ERP and CRM technologies that rival anything on the market. However, these are me too products.
At this moment in technology Google is inventing Google Glass and cars that drive themselves; Apple has rung up a string of new devices and I expect that Angela Ahrendts, former CEO of Burberry’s, will have something interesting to say about wearable computing soon; Intel is actively working on multiple fronts including wearables interestingly enough; Oracle has reinvented databases and storage for the cloud; and Salesforce has pushed the concept of platform further than any company in history. There’s also social media and titans like Facebook and Twitter have revolutionized society with their wares and there are other companies right behind them. These companies are inventing the future.
In this environment Microsoft looks positively dowdy with its suite of applications, Windows everywhere, and games. If Microsoft simply decides to be a player in one or all of these markets, it will fail and Nadella will be known as the guy who let it slip through his fingers. But really there will be plenty of blame to be shared by now ex-CEO Steve Ballmer and now former Chairman, Bill Gates. Knowing this Nadella has the chance to be the guy who pulled back on the stick and got the company flying high again. Will he?
What will he do first? Where will he place his bets? He needs the company to invent something that hasn’t been thought of yet, something that will get the company back into the game of being new and different. I am not sure he’s the guy or even if there is a guy for this, but as I said, I wish him well. We’re counting on him.
I am indebted to my friends at the Enterprise Irregulars, for the links in this piece. The IE’s, if you didn’t know, are a rag tag group of certified smarties who know all kinds of stuff about the greater tech industry and I am flattered that they let me hang out with them.
The aftermath of the verdict from the patent infringement lawsuit between Apple and Samsung initially generated more heat than light. But the last few days have made up for the light that failed to emanate from the weekend’s id fest and Armageddon prediction Internet confab.
Reuters is running an interesting story about Apple CEO Tim Cook and Larry Page of Google keeping the hotline open — you really need to be a child of the 1960’s to fully appreciate this metaphor. Suffice it to say that it is the origin of the little red phone. But also, there was this really interesting post at ZDNet by Jason Perlow about Samsung and Google’s collective need for a new dress.
I particularly recommend Perlow’s article because, while the idea of product dress might seem weird to some people — especially those who take issue with the look and feel aspects of the Apple suit — it might interest you to know that product dress is a legal term.
Without giving away Perlow’s point, let’s just make the observation that the classic Coke Bottle, which has nothing to do with how the stuff tastes, is part of Coke’s dress and its IP, as much as its secret recipe. Only Coke has Coke Bottles, for a good reason. So go read that article.
My point here, other than giving a shout out to the IE’s and trying to enlighten others, is that Apple might have, at least momentarily, hit on the only look and feel for mobile devices that will ever be widely accepted. Tapping, swiping, pinching — things that come natural not only to the members of our Genus but also our Family and, who knows, maybe even our Order — might be so hardwired into our beings that coming up with an alternative might be a waste of time. Holy $%^& Batman that might mean that Apple could end up owning the mobile UI and someday soon be in a position to make a few pennies on every Samsung or HTC device running Andriod for ever.
Believe it or not, such an outcome would not be unique in the annals of business or manufacturing. It might have something to do with cross licensing (I know, but don’t confuse it with dressing mentioned above). That’s when more than one company asserts ownership rights to an invention that each came up with the old fashioned way (you know, R&D?). But rather than fighting about it for years, the two (or more) companies come to terms, some money and possibly other patents are traded and then it’s back to business.
The best example of this is the car industry. Car radios, V-8 engines, automatic transmissions, how heating and air conditioning systems work, how the controls are set up and lots more, all have patents and if all cars look more or less alike in some basic features and functions, it might be because their makers went to the same patent swap meet. Yes, patents expire so don’t go looking to fund the fifth generation grand kids college even if you have lot of patents.
So this brings us back to Larry and Tim and the hotline. May we be informal for a moment and simply refer to each other using first names like they do in the music biz (Elvis, John, Paul, George, and especially Ringo; but also Bono, Sting, Eric and many others)? So, Larry bought Motorola (early car radio patents, BTW) at least in part for its stable of patents to ward off just the kind of suit that Tim’s company is making famous in the mobile industry (Tim should file a patent! hahaha!). And Larry, Tim and their minions are keeping the lines of communication open as they say.
What are the odds that the verdict put the discussions into high gear and that there’s an informal-formal patent swap meet happening out in the Valley between these principals? Nothing would surprise me but I think that if both sides remain reasonable and use their inside voices and big words, that there will be an announcement in the not too distant future that they’ve struck a deal.
If so, the deal would create the stack of the decade. Just as Wintel described a stack of Windows OS and Intel chips that made the personal computer; or as LAMP stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP for cloud application servers, some standard that combines Mobile/Google/Android/Motorola/Apple might emerge from all this chaos for mobile devices.
Let’s see, MOGAM? MOGA? GAAMMO? AGAMO? AAM? AA? Who knows, naming might be the stickiest part of the negotiations that aren’t happening on the hot line at the moment.