Monthly Archives: November 2009

Dell Looks at Chrome and Moblin for Netbooks

Microsoft doesn’t seem keen on making Windows run smoothly on netbook PCs, so it’s no shock to find PC vendors, such as Dell, investigating the viability of Google’s Chrome OS as an operating system for low-cost, web-centric mobile computers.

Google isn’t the only vendor to target netbooks with a web-optimized operating system. Dell and others have shown interest in Moblin — short for “mobile Linux” — an operating system that Intel bequeathed to the Linux Foundation. Other Linux variants, tuned for resource-challenged netbooks, also have been advanced for web-based computing.

Not everybody likes netbooks — Dell and other PC vendors would prefer to live in a world where consumers bought nothing but high-end notebooks for mobile computing — but the low-cost systems will be with us for a while. While they have found particular favor in the developing world, they’re not without buyers in developed economies.

Vendors that can actually get them to become more useful figure to benefit. That explains the experimentation with operating systems other than Windows, even by vendors that made their names and their fortunes as Microsoft licensees in bygone eras.

Rumored “Google Phone” Unlikely to Compete Directly with Android Licensees

Rumors are spreading and intensifying regarding the development and eventual release of a “Google Phone,” apparently different from the Android-based handsets that Google’s hardware licensees, such as HTC and Motorola, have brought to market.

At this point, details on the Google Phone are limited. There’s no such limit on speculation, though.

I find it difficult to imagine that Google would be so quick to trash its approach to licensing its Android mobile operating system to handset vendors. If it came out with its own phone, one that directly competed with the Android-based handsets of its OEM partners, Google would effectively be throwing kerosene and matches on those relationships. Microsoft, whose hold on those OEMs has weakened in inverse proportion to Android’s rise, would celebrate wildly. Google would be giving Microsoft a lifeline that Windows Mobile doesn’t deserve.

Google isn’t that magnanimous. If this heretofore mythical Google Phone does exist — and it probably does — I suspect it runs entirely on WiFi (or future unlicensed spectrum, such as “white spaces”) and features Google Talk. I don’t think it’s a handset that Google would offer to wireless operators in direct competition against products from its handset partners.

It would be no surprise to see Google emerge as one of the white-space database administrators the FCC has solicited.

Viability of Open-Source Business Models Irrelevant to EC’s MySQL Objections

Yesterday the New York Times published a story that used MySQL as a point of departure for a broader examination of the efficacy of business models surrounding open-source software. At the end of the article, the NYT and its sources appear to have reached the conclusion that nobody except Red Hat makes money as a purveyor of open-source software.

I’m not sure that’s entirely true, though I understand and accept the broader point that’s being made: It’s not easy cranking out sustained profitability as an open-source software company.

Maybe open source is more a cultural or social movement than a profit-spinning business phenomenon. Even granting that point, I’m not sure how or whether it plays into the current brouhaha pitting Oracle against the European Commission regarding the fate of Oracle’s proposed acquisition of Sun, the current custodian of MySQL, for $7.4 billion.

We know why Oracle wants MySQL — as a competitive foil to thwart Microsoft in developing markets and the SMB space, where Oracle’s flagship database isn’t a major player — and we know that the EC has concerns about Oracle’s pending ownership of MySQL. The EC has voiced strong reservations about the competitive repercussions of Oracle’s control of MySQL, which could conceivably be neutered so that it never develops into a meaningful rival to Oracle’s high-end database offering.

The EC claims three vendors — Oracle, IBM, and Microsoft — account for about 85 percent of the world’s database market. It also contends that Oracle’s ownership of MySQL would strengthen the triumvirate’s market grip, potentially leading to market abuses by a cartel-like cabal. Ideally, the EC would like to see Oracle divest MySQL.

There might be an ulterior motive to the EC’s machinations. It’s possible that the EC sees European interests as benefiting more than American ones from the proliferation of open-source software. On the whole, though, I think Neelie Kroes, the EC’s competition chief, means what she says in the following statement:

“In the current economic context, all companies are looking for cost-effective I.T. solutions, and systems based on open-source software are increasingly emerging as viable alternatives to proprietary solutions. The commission has to ensure that such alternatives would continue to be available.”

It’s not so much about European IT dominance as it is about European (and other) companies of all types having cost-effective IT solutions at their disposal. In that context, it’s probably irrelevant whether open source is a movement or an industry with a viable business model. As long as open-source software persists, the EC will get what it wants.

IBM Reportedly Acquires Guardium for $225 Million

Although I have yet to see a formal announcement from IBM, reports suggest that Big Blue is in the process of acquiring database-security vendor Guardium for approximately $225 million.

Founded as Defendo in Israel in 2002, Guardium moved to the Boston area in 2003. It has been headquartered there ever since. Most of the company’s development apparently is done in the Boston suburb of Waltham, but some is done in Israel. The company was spun off as a subsidiary of Log-On, founded by Amnon Keinan and Lior Tal, who has since left the company. Keinan was formerly a vice president at Amdocs, according to a Haaretz report.

About $21 million has been invested in the company since it was established. Investors include Ascent, Cedar Fund, StageOne Ventures and Veritas Venture Partners, as well as strategic investor Cisco Systems.

Guadium’s flagship product is SQL-Guard, which provides database security assessment, access policy control and enforcement, as well as auditing and regulatory compliance. Guardium’s products provide secure access to enterprise data, including databases from IBM, Oracle, Microsoft and others.

Haaretz notes that companies in the same space include Imperva and Sentrigo. Those two vendors, like Guardium, were launched in Israel, which has an exceptionally strong history in data-security technologies. Probably Israel’s best-known Internet-security company is Check Point Software, a firewall pioneer that has grown into an enterprise-security leader with an extensive portfolio of perimeter and endpoint products.

Guardium has about 60 employees. IBM’s acquisition of the company was reported initially by Israeli financial newspaper TheMarker, then covered by Reuters, Haaretz, and others.

A Secularist Amid Technology’s Religious Zealots

I’m not religious about the my consumer electronics or technologies. I am not anybody’s “fanboy.” Generally speaking, I buy and use technology-based products because they meet a functional purpose, not because I am emotionally attached to a brand or to a device. I think having such an emotional attachment is, well, perverse.

So I can’t understand the vehemence with which users of various gaming consoles or mobile phones rail at each other. It’s as it they think something tremendously important as at stake, when really they’re arguing about nothing of lasting significance. Does it really matter, other than to the stakeholders in the companies that provide the products, whether any given consumer favors the Sony PS3 over the Xbox 360? Does it matter, in the big picture, whether you believe Motorola’s Droid is better than Apple’s iPhone?

I don’t get it. And yet others get incredibly emotional over this stuff. I don’t know what’s in it for them, but they seem to feel that they have a personal stake in the outcome.

Somehow, in some way, they emotionally identify with a brand or a device. Are they dupes, deceived by corporate marketers, or are legitimate needs being met? I don’t have the answer, but I’m always skeptical of the advertising culture, especially in an era where our unchecked consumerist cravings have helped to deposit us into a deep, dark economic abyss.

It is with bemusement, then, that I watch the iPhone-versus-Android battle play out. I don’t have a horse in the race, and I’m not sure anybody will collect the purse at the end of it other than Apple or Google (plus the latter’s handset licensees).

Still, people who have nothing tangible to gain — other than a sense of being “right” about choosing an allegedly superior device for their personal conspicuous consumption — seem exercised about it al the same. Through it all, I feel like an anthropologist studying an exotic post-historic civilization.

News Corp. Stirs Pot in Threat to Cut Exclusive Deal with Microsoft

News Corp. potentate Rupert Murdoch supposedly has been pondering a delisting of his company’s news content from Google’s search network.

Moreover, according to reports, Murdoch has been considering an exclusive relationship that would see News Corp’s content be searchable and available only on Microsoft’s Bing search engine. Apparently Microsoft would pay for the privilege, but nobody knows how much.

In fact, not much is known about details related to Murdoch’s prospective flight from Google and toward Microsoft. That’s because it’s an idea that hasn’t been fully developed.

It hasn’t been fully developed because Murdoch is testing the waters. I don’t think he has made a decision to throw in his lot with Microsoft — not yet, and perhaps not ever. What he does want, however, is a better deal from Google. Like many publishers, he’d like a bigger cut of news-related advertising-search revenue, especially from Google, which remains the runaway web-search leader despite Microsoft’s rebranded and revitalized efforts under the Bing moniker.

Murdoch is known to be obdurate, but he didn’t build a vast media empire by being thick as a brick. He knows that Google is the search leader, that his striking an exclusive deal with Microsoft won’t shift the balance of power appreciably in the search world, and that his news properties would likely suffer more than Google would from any scorched-earth tactics he might choose to employ.

The News Corp. chieftain is stirring the pot, hoping Google comes into the kitchen to see what’s cooking. The problem is, most of his firm’s content isn’t irreplaceable. Google would like to be able to index it, sure, but Google could live without News Corp.

How would News Corp. — in a world where more and more people consume their news online — fare without Google?

Elucidating Technology Layoffs

At GigaOm, Kevin Kelleher recently wrote a blog post that attempted to answer the following question: “Why are tech layoffs rising in a recovery?

Although I think the question is skewed — you call this a recovery? — what follows are my replies, enumerated for the convenience of the reader.

1) The alleged recovery isn’t really a recovery in the traditional sense. Without jobs or income security — and mired in crushing personal debt — many American consumers can’t and won’t spend at their formerly shop-till-you-drop pace. The American consumer accounts for as much as 70 percent of national GDP (though some economists energetically debate the exact percentage).

2) What happens in the stock market has a tenuous connection to what happens in the real world. Stocks rise and fall, based on perceived valuations, but don’t make the mistake of thinking those fluctuations are always related to what’s happening in the underlying economy.

3) Much of information technology is being commodified. Yes, there are areas that still require advanced R&D conducted by brainy PhDs, but they’re not as prevalent as they were.

4) IT is a mature industry. It’s been around nearly 40 years. Like other industries that preceded it, IT will exhibit the telltale signs of maturity: slow growth, consolidation, commodification, an increased focus on reduced operating expenditures, etc.

5) Whenever possible, IT companies are shifting jobs to low-cost geographies, such as China, India, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and even the Philippines. This phenomenon is tied to points 3 and 4.

There doubtless are others reasons, too, but those are the main ones.