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April 2007

The Good Manager

Unwritten_laws

When I was in the UK last week, I read an article in the Sunday Times called The Good Manager.  The article was a summary of management principles written 60 some years ago by WJ King in a book called "The Unwritten Laws of Business."  The ideas are basic, but powerful.  While it's unlikely that even the most gifted managers follow all the rules all of the time, they are good inspiration.  Managing is not rocket science and just doing a good job on the basics can have a lot of impact. Rather than attempt to summarize the ideas, I encourage you to read the article in the Times. 


MySQL Usage Up 25%

Evans_logo

Evans Data Group has recently released the results of their latest developer survey showing that MySQL usage is up by 25%.  In fact, 40% of developers surveyed are using MySQL.  According to Evans:

"In an increasing number of ratings categories, we're seeing open-source databases meeting or exceeding proprietary databases."

Evans indicated that MySQL was growing in popularity due to its adoption as part of the open source LAMP stack (Linux / Apache / MySQL / PHP).  With more developers using open source (65% in North America) MySQL usage is expected to continue to grow in the future.


Hello Disruption, Goodbye Infoworld!

Infoworld_cover_2 

After 29 years, InfoWorld is giving up it's print edition and going to a web-only publication model.  It's hard to believe it's been around that long.  I remember reading InfoWorld when I was in University back in the early 1980s.  Back then, the only way to know what was new in technology was through magazines like InfoWorld, ComputerWorld, PC Week, PC Magazine et al.  Over the years, InfoWorld has had some of the greatest writers and editorial staff in the industry.  And they were able to morph on occasion from tabloid to glossy magazine (and back) a couple of times, adding new columnists to focus on new techologies to stay current.  But it's been apparent for a while that InfoWorld's print edition was becoming less and less significant.  Once it got down to 44 pages or less (that's thinner than Mad Magazine), it was clear something had to give. 

I guess it shows what happens when a business is disrupted by a tidal wave like the web.  At some point, the old model simply doesn't work.  And what's true for InfoWorld is no doubt true for other publications that have already migrated to web-only or will likely need to do so in the near future.  Life Magazine, Intelligent Enterprise and others have also abandoned their print versions.  As Pat McGovern of IDG reported last summer "Print publications are an ancillary business for us."

I hope InfoWorld will be able to invest in hiring back some of the top notch reporters and editorial staff and become as innovative on the web as they were in print.


The Cranky PM

Cranky_2 

One of our product managers sent around a link to the site www.crankypm.com which describes the fictional life of a product manager at a mythical software company.  Having read a few of the essays on "A Day in the Life" and "All the Responsibility and No Authority" I think it's a pretty accurate description of life in the trenches in product management. 

Product Management is not an easy job, but its an important one.  In fact, these guys are the unsung heros.  Its amazing to me how many companies don't understand the role of product management.  If you're looking for ways to make sure that the products you build solve problems that customers care about, you should hire product managers that understands both your customers needs and your technology.  If your product managers don't understand those two items, then they may be doing something interesting, but they are not helping to manage your products.  Good product managers are as rare as hen's teeth.  I've had a lot of luck recruiting product managers from the field, among customers, users and, beleive it or not, sales engineers.  The key thing is to have passion for the products and have enough experience to understand which features will make a difference in customers lives and which won't.  And unlike marketing guys, they have to really understand the technology so that they can go toe-to-toe with engineering when necessary.

If you're an engineer or in product marketing, it's worth reading some of the articles below just to understand how the other half lives.  Despite the, ah, cranky nature of her writing, CPM is pretty darned insightful into what it takes to ship great software and what gets in the way.  Also, my guess is she's really hot. 

Check out the links below from Cranky Product Manager and elsewhere.  Sense of humor optional.


Bum Rush The Charts

Bumrush

Today, March 22nd, is Bum Rush The Charts Day.  This is a day during which thousands of independent podcasters and bloggers will attempt to show the strength they have compared to traditional corporate media. How?  By making an indepedent single the #1 item on iTunes.  You can support this effort by buying the song "Mine Again" by Black Lab, a band that was dropped from two labels and had to fight back to get the rights to its own music.  Every commission made on the sale of the song is being donated to support college scholarships and 50% of the royalties the band earns will also be donated.  If you believe in podcasting and independent media, make it known.  Buy the song and podcast or blog about it.

Also, March 25 is International Waffle day (VĂ„ffeldagen) in Sweden.


Red Hat Exchange

Mysql_powered_by   

In addition to launching RHEL 5 earlier this week, Red Hat previewed their forthcoming online marketplace Red Hat Exchange, or RHX.  While no date has been announced, Red Hat has identified an initial set of partners which includes a who's who of leading commercial open source companies such as Alfresco, JasperSoft, MySQL, Pentaho, SugarCRM, Zimbra and Zmanda, among others. Under the Red Hat Exchange, customers will be able to buy support subscriptions for these products directly from Red Hat's web site giving newer companies direct access to Red Hat's installed base. And for Red Hat customers, they get the proverbial "one throat to choke" ensuring compatibility and integrated support. 

RHX is the brainchild of long-time Red Hat employees Matt Mattox and Mike Evans and I expect more details will be coming in the months that follow.  But in case it's not obvious, we're pretty jazzed about RHX at MySQL. Not only are most of the products powered by MySQL, but hey, guess what database Red Hat used to build RHX?  Hint: It sure ain't Oracle!


RHEL 5 Launches

Rhel5

Red Hat earlier today announced the latest version of RHEL 5 in a series of live events worlwide in Germany and the US.  Since we work closely with Red Hat, I joined along with other open source partners and customers in San Francisco.  Red Hat execs Paul Cormier, Mike Evans, Brian Stevens and David Burney were on hand to provide an overview of what's new and what's coming in the future.

The newest flagship version is called RHEL 5 Advanced Platform, which includes quad-core CPU support, integrated virtualization (based on the Xen hypervisor) with an unlimited number of guest operating systems, and virtualized storage capabilities as well as easier system administration.

A high availability database clustering package will allow users to build data center systems with the customer's choice of databases including Oracle, Sybase, DB2 and MySQL.  Compared to Oracle RAC, Red Hat's approach could save customers hundreds of thousands of dollars. CTO Brian Stevens is driving the development of "the ultimate database container" which will no doubt make life easier for DBAs, SysAdmins and CIOs throughout the industry.  While some sources have speculated that Red Hat's moves in the area of virtualization are a response to Oracle's forking of Red Hat, I think shows that Red Hat is focused on solving customer problems and adding value.

Red Hat also indicated that they are stepping up their commitment in middleware by doubling their investment in JBoss.  While there were some early questions about how well the JBoss integration had been going given founder Marc Fleury's departure, I believe their strategy is paying off.  Red Hat is delivering a broader solution to customers and winning more and bigger deals as a result. 

Red Hat: Eliminating Complexity
As impressive as all this is, Red Hat is focused on making sure that every step in the process is easier for their customers.  So they took their 9 page support agreement contract (which was already 1/4 as long as competitors' contracts) and reduced it down to 1 page --with none of the usual legaleze!  As Red Hat exec Ian Gray succinctly put it: "If we ship the bits, we support the bits." 

Not only is Red Hat doing its customers a service by simplifying their contracts, they are no doubt streamlining their own internal operations. While this might seem like a small detail, consider how many hours of lost productivity there are when people spend time reviewing and negotiating contracts over a bunch of legal mumbo jumbo. With this attention to detail, it's clear that Red Hat is focused on what matters: the customer experience. 


MySQL Conference Tutorials Selling Out

Mysql_uc_2007_box

The good news is that MySQL Conference & Expo (April 23-26, Santa Clara, Calif) is selling even faster this year than in past years, due to an even stronger program and great marketing work from O'Reilly and our Community team.  But the bad news is that it's likely some tutorials are approaching capacity and may sell out shortly.  Performance tuning is always a hot topic, as is using MySQL Cluster, and some of the new capabilities like partitioning, row-based replication and the new Falcon storage engine.  In past year's we've had companies send entire teams to the conference in order to solve their most difficult problems.  It's a smart move.  There's more MySQL brainpower per square mile in Santa Clara for one week than you could ever hope to get through any other means.  We always tell people to bring their laptops, their toughest problems and walk out with solutions. 

Note that early registration ends today March 14, so this is a good opportunity to register now, get the tutorials you want and save $200.


Criminal Customer Service

Sadipod

Yesterday, my trusted iPod Nano died. It had been acting flakey for a couple of days after many months of fail-free service. I had to reset it a couple of times recently, which is fairly uncommon. And then it locked up Sunday in the middle of a 12 mile run. I felt like my running partner was bailing on me with 3 more miles to go! After resetting once again, I got a very creepy error message saying "Use iTunes to Restore" in four languages. (This looked like the iPod equivalent of a blue screen of death.) I tried a few more times, but it would invariably lock up within minutes. I stopped worrying about it since it was slowing down my running. But with a trip to Europe coming up I was hoping to bring my Nano with me for the overseas flight. Hmmm...

Useitunes

When I got home, I Googled the error message which took me to the exact documentation page on Apple's site. I tried a couple of the tips there and on some related pages, but still no luck. In fact, I eventually got the "sad iPod" icon shown at the top of this page. Definitely not a good sign. The next step was to take it in for service. The support pages had links for booking an appointment at the local Apple retailer with their "Genius Bar". Surprisingly, I was able to get an appointment for the next day at 6:30 pm at the Valley Fair store in Santa Clara, which is on my way home.

I showed up the requisite 5 minutes early, and a helpful Mac Genius, Tim Oliver took care of me. He plugged in my iPod, tried a couple of things, printed out a form, had me sign it, and within 12 minutes I walked out with a brand new Nano. This service was so good, I felt like I was getting away with something. My first instinct was to flee the store as quickly as possible with my new iPod in my pocket before some bureaucratic manager chased me down with a bunch of paperwork and preferred-customer surcharges.

In the past, when I've tried to get customer service for a high-tech product, it's usually one hassle after another. Phone trees, re-entering your account number, answering useless questions and wasting time. Heaven forbid something needs service, then its even worse.

But Apple realizes what few companies do. Customer service is a differentiator. In fact, as technology becomes increasingly commoditized, it may be the only sustainable competitive advantage. Apple not only empower its Geniuses to do what's right for the customer, they make it easy to do so. My Genius didn't have to contact a manager for approval, he didn't need to look up my account information, he didn't ask me for an RMA number or receipt, he didn't grill me about what I might have done wrong. He just solved the problem for me in a way that was as expedient as possible both for me and for Apple. And to their credit, Apple has designed their systems and processes to make it easy to deliver exceptional service. That is the true genius in Apple's approach to service.

What's to be learned? Develop your systems and processes with the customer first. Make it easy for customers to find the right information and to help themselves. And make it easy for employees to help customers. The faster you can deliver great service to the customer the happier they will be and the more cost effective it will be for you. Any processes that slow things down should be eliminated.

Most companies either have no processes (if it's a small company) or broken processes (if it's a big company).  But how many companies have processes designed to optimize the customer experience?  Are your customer service systems designed to ensure that customers conform to your inner workings?  Or are they designed for the customer's convenience? 

Most companies' customer service systems are designed to deliver customer disservice.  They convey the implicit notion that you, the customer, are an annoyance.  (Oh, the irony of the statement: "Your call is important to us..." The heck it is!  If it was important, you wouldn't have me on hold for 20 minutes and keep telling me to go to the web!)  And once you do get hold of a real person, they ask you to repeat the information that you already entered "in order to better serve you."  (My most unpleasant experience to date: having to call back the CitiBank credit card to validate a transaction. They make me call them, and after I wait on hold and finally get through to a live agent, I need to answer a bunch of security check questions including in what county in Illinois did I or did I not own property more than 20 years ago. Hey Citibank, I was returning your call! Where do I cancel?  No wonder there are so many stories about how Citibank sucks on the web.)

And if you deliver exceptional customer service, not only do you win a customer, you turn them into raving fans. That's one reason Apple has such a loyal following. 

Have you had exceptionally good service from a company lately?  Write to the CEO and tell them.  Crappy service?  Same answer. Or better yet, tell the world. 


MySQL GUI Tools Release 10

Gui_tools_1

The MySQL GUI Tools team has recently shipped release 10 of their full set of tools.  This is a bundle that includes the GA versions of

  • MySQL Administrator 1.2.10
  • MySQL Query Browser 1.2.10
  • MySQL Migration Toolkit 1.1.10

The GUI team has spent the last few months fixing all of the bugs that they could find in these products (and not adding new features!)  So if you've tried out some of the tools previously and had compatability issues, this is a good time to take them out for another test run.  These tools are available in a single download version and provide easy ability to graphically configure, manage and work with MySQL servers from Windows, Mac and Linux platforms.

One really cool thing is that these tools already work with the Alpha release of our newest storage engine Falcon. At the MySQL Conference in April, there will be some previews of new developments by our GUI tools team.