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April 2007
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June 2007

Vonage: Not Dead Yet?


Looks like one-time hot VOIP company Vonage has got its work cut out for it.  While the company was once considered disruptive, now it's got one foot in the grave due to mismanagement, excessive spending and a potentially fatal patent run-in with Verizon.  The company has been losing money steadily and it's stock (NYSE:VG) cratered some months back wiping out $2 billion in market cap.  The stock is trading in the single digits, now well below it's IPO price of $17.  In fact the market cap seems to be hovering just over cash-on-hand. Easy come easy go.

The company recently sacked the CEO and is now looking to work around the patent infringement issues. But the real issue may be seen in the dismal customer churn and the fact that Vonage as a business just wasn't disruptive enough; it wasn't really creating a new market and there was little unique about its offering.

Interface21 Raises VC


Interface21, the company behind the Spring framework for Java has raised $10 million in venture capital from Benchmark Capital.  Benchmark is one of the leading VC firms in Silicon Valley and has invested widely in open source companies including MySQL, Red Hat,, Terracotta, Zimbra.

Benchmark partner Peter Fenton was also named one of the top VC's under 40, along with Danny Rimer from Index Ventures, another regular open source investor.

Next Big Thing: Scala


My buddy David Pollak, host of a local geekbeer social event, thinks Scala is the next big thing in web programming.  Scala is an object-oriented / functional programming language that compiles down to Java byte code.  It's statically typed but fully supports generics and polymorphism.  And it's published under an open source BSD-like license. 

David's got pretty good street cred; he's built large scale applications in everything from C++, C#, Ruby and pretty much everything else in between.  Over lunch recently he told me in a rather offhand fashion that he used Scala and the related lift framework to write a Twitter clone (called Skittr) in 800 lines that scales to 1 million users on a two-box Intel Core Duo setup.  Holy cripes, that's scalable. 

Part of the reason Scala's able to do so much with so little code comes down to the framework called lift which is also open source under an Apache license.  Lift takes all that is good about the Rails framework for Ruby but performs 6x faster and is fully multi-threaded.  It's still in an alpha stage, but looks pretty impressive.

Java Redux


I was unable to attend JavaOne this year since I was at the Red Hat conference in San Diego. Still, I heard good things, especially about a new language and framework called Scala/lift.  Both Java Flex guru Bruce Eckel and scalability guru David Pollak commented on Scala. (More on that next week.) 

So my only way to find out what was going on was through blogs and news releases.  If you missed JavaOne, check out the links below.  Interesting highlights include Sun's announcement of JavaFX scripting, the JPhone and the results of open sourcing Java. Interesting to see Sun finally get behind scripting languages after poo-poohing them for so many years.  (But what I really want to know is how did Charlie Babcock manage to cover both the Red Hat conference in San Diego and the JavaOne conference in San Francsico!)

SAP Gets Serious About Web 2.0


SAP Chairman and co-founder Hasso Plattner has been out discussing how SAP is redefining itself and investing in building the next generation of Web 2.0 software for the Enterprise.  SAP has been out doing a few acquisitions in recent months, presumably to accelerate the pace of change.  While SAP has long been a quiet supporter of open source technology and investor in companies like MySQL and Zend,

Plattner is down right enthusiastic about opening up processes to have more community involvement and a more accessible hosted approach.  Plattner cited Google and as a good models of how to rapidly deliver high quality information to users.  SAP is investing heavily in a new initiative known as A1S, which is a new online hosted offering based on a collaborative service-oriented architecture (SOA).

SnapLogic Data Integration Networks


At the OSBC conference, SnapLogic, a new open source company focused on data integration networks, will be showing their stuff.  It's pretty cool technology.  Think of it as Enterprise Application Integration (EAI) meets Yahoo! Pipes.  You have to see the demo to really appreciate how much they have simplified the complexity of integration.  The company includes some serious talent and brings a very modern network approach to solving the enterprise integration problem. 

Microsoft's Google Envy


Thinking further about Microsoft's FUD campaign to threaten patent lawsuits against customers for using Linux, I was wondering if this isn't really a result of a bigger issue facing the company: Google Envy.  As I mentioned previously, Microsoft is competing on several fronts.  And while they hate like hell to give up market share to open source that would threaten their cash cow Windows or Office business, the bigger issue for the company is that their core businesses are being disrupted.  And Microsoft is in last place when it comes to new online businesses like hosted applications, online search, email, blogging, videos, and music.  (Ok, to be fair, Microsoft has come from behind in the past in other markets like gaming and accounting software.)  As is the case in many mature markets, their core products have become bloated in recent years.  There's a lot more excitement around Ubuntu and OS/X than there is about Vista. I've yet to meet anyone outside of Microsoft who is running Vista and recommends it.

Ballmer has become so obsessed with Google he called the company a "one hit wonder" at a presentation at Stanford.  There is some truth to that since 99.999% of Google's business comes through their online advertising program.  But it's a helluva hit, and that's the real issue for Microsoft.  Despite all their MBAs and financial focus, Microsoft missed out big time on a disruption in the market.  It's as if GM woke up one day and discovered that everyone outside of detroit wanted fuel-efficient Japanese cars.  Ok, that happened too. 

Instead of criticizing their rival, Ballmer would be better off taking aim internally and trying to fix the problem.  Maybe that was the idea behind the possible acquisition of Yahoo.  The resulting company ("Moohoo?") could have been a contender against Google.  But as the analysis showed, why would Yahoo want to sell out to Microsoft?  Other than cash, Microsoft doesn't bring much to the party.  But it is a fairly well accepted way for an older company to deal with disruption. 

But maybe last week's FUD against open source has a subtler target.  It's well known that all of the leading web 2.0 companies are running open source software rather than Microsoft's closed source stack.  Perhaps Microsoft's real intention was a veiled threat against Google and newer companies running the LAMP stack.  That's conjecture, but consider that Microsoft is a company that doesn't mind playing hardball.  Remember Microsoft's earlier disdain for the US government and it's anti-trust investigations?  ("To heck with Janet Reno!")  Not to mention the infamous video tape that Microsoft presented in court that later turned out to be a contrived fake.  With those ideas as a backdrop, almost nothing is too weird to consider.    

Sharp Zaurus SL-C3200


At Red Hat's conference last week, I spotted a guy using a tiny keyboard equipped PDA that I didn't recognize.  It turns out it was the Sharp Zaurus SL-C3200, which is not available officially in the US, but is popular in Japan. Still you can buy it through the web at Dynamism and other grey market importers.

The Zaurus has gone through several iterations and form factors over the years and was the first Linux handheld shipped way back when. It now has a 6gb hard drive, SD and CF slots and a decent VGA (640x480) screen.  It's compact enough to carry in a pocket or on a belt clip and weighs just over 10 onces (298 g). With the SD slot, you can add a wi-fi card and get internet connectivity.

I don't think there's a perfect device for all purposes, but the Zaurus is pretty good if you need a keyboard, though at $800 it's pretty expensive.  On the other hand, Nokia's N800 tablet has a bigger screen and built-in wi-fi support for half the price, but, alas, no keyboard.

Carpal tunnel syndrome

This post is slightly off-topic, but I thought I'd share some information.  I've been suffering from carpal tunnels syndrome recently, and it's only gotten worse.  Apparently I'm not the only bloggers to suffer from this. And what's apparently made it worse is in my Internet/e-mail/blogging addiction, I've queued up a bunch of posts to take place over the next couple of weeks while I'm traveling.  (I may also have aggravated this by trying to play a lot of rock guitar.  Recently when I'm completely ill-equipped to do so.)

At any rate, I'm trying not to type so much.  And some of you may have already guessed that this posting is being written using voice recognition software from Dragon systems.  (Naturally speaking, version 9).  The software works better than expected, but you do need to review and fix a few mistakes along the way.  I'm purposefully leaving the mistakes in this posting to seek and see how accurate (or inaccurate).  The software really is.  Okay my lesson, I haven't fully learned is that you shouldn't cause too much between clauses, otherwise, it treats them as separate sentences.

The other thing I've done is picked out a couple of a wrist bandages.  In this case, the Smart glove by IMAK.  They look a little dorky, but it leaves their black.  So that's rock 'n roll for you.  I'm also taking a lot of ibuprofen and icing my wrists routinely.  But mostly I need to stop typing.  Good luck with that.

If anyone has any tips or recommendations please let me know.

More FUD from Microsoft


Microsoft upped the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, Doubt) in the open source world with a carefully planned story given to Fortune magazine Monday in which their legal counsel revealed that Microsoft believes Linux and other open source software violate more than 200 of Microsoft's software patents. 

As the article points out, the whole idea of software patents is a relative new one and there are likely thousands of bogus patents that will not stand up in court.  In fact it's not that many years ago that the Bill Gates was talking about how software patents could be abused: 

"If people had understood how patents would be granted when most of today's ideas were invented and had taken out patents, the industry would be at a complete standstill today ...
The solution is patenting as much as we can. A future startup with no patents of its own will be forced to pay whatever price the giants choose to impose. That price might be high. Established companies have an interest in excluding future competitors."
Bill Gates, 1991

(That's one of the reasons we fought software patents in Europe with the initiative.  But I digress...)

The latest story is running like wildfire through the blogosphere about how Microsoft is the new SCO, how there's no beef in their story, Microsoft's engaging in bully tactics, they should innovate not litigate etc.  Many in the open source community are up in arms about it.  But all of this misses the point.  Microsoft doesn't care whether developers get irked by any of this. Instead their goal is to create a chilling effect on software buyers in government and industry who may think twice before using open source software in case Microsoft sues them.  In that regard, any press is good press for Microsoft since it creates confusion which can cause delays in the evolution of the market.  This is a classic response to disruption in the marketplace. 

But if Microsoft is so confident of their patents, then they should put their money where their mouth is and put the patent infringements on the table for all to see. Put up or shut up, as Larry Augustin has stated. I doubt they will.  Because if Microsoft actually provides any real evidence of infringement, then the open source community can remedy the situation or fight the patents.  Microsoft is a paper tiger here.  The irony is that another approach that could be taken is that customers could just decide they've had enough of Microsoft's bullying and start to leave Windows in droves.  Certainly there's not much compelling in Vista the latest release and if Microsoft is going to sue people, maybe it's going to provide an opportunity for Ubuntu, Red Hat and others to make some hay. 

Microsoft's in a tough position.  They're fighting a battle on two fronts (open source software, and online offerings from Google and others) and struggling mightily to determine how they will be relevent for the next 25 years.  The irony is that Microsoft is occasionally a good partner in open source.  They've worked with JBoss, Zend, MySQL and others. And Windows is a pretty good platform for development. 

But Microsoft is schizophrenic in this regard.  Despite the great progress by folks like Bill Hilf, the reality is that Microsoft's senior management is on the attack against open-source.  In that regard, it's attacking a tidal wave of progress in the industry.  Microsoft may as well be tilting at windmills.  Open source is taking hold and growing at an accelerated rate, partly because Microsoft has such an insular culture that they can't conceive of why anyone would want to run anything but Windows.  The only question is whether Microsoft will be relevant in an open source world, the way IBM, Oracle, Sun and others are. Or will they continue to fight against the trend, much like they tried to maintain a closed approach in face of open Internet standards. (Remember Microsoft's "Blackbird" or "Hailstorm" projects?  Me neither.)  Maybe Microsoft is destined to be the next DEC, a great company that ultimately missed the boat on massive changes in the industry. 

The whole thing reminds me of The Onion's classic story "Microsoft Patents Ones, Zeroes."  Now apparently it's gone from satire to strategy. 

"Think of this as a partnership," Gates said. "Like the ones and zeroes of the binary code itself, we must all work together to make the promise of the computer revolution a reality. As the world's richest, most powerful software company, Microsoft is number one. And you, the millions of consumers who use our products, are the zeroes."

Here's a thought, Microsoft should patent the Blue Screen of Death --that's a Microsoft innovation after all.