Saturday, November 17, 2007

Two months of IT news

I’m done with grading my MBA classes and my undergraduate midterms, and thus can spend (a little) more time on the blog. During those two months, I set aside a large pile of stuff that I set aside to blog about. Since those items aren’t going to get their own article, instead I thought I’d write a combination article with a line or two on the items that I could find. My notes for September aren’t very good, but I can remember the recent run of interesting news:

  • Sept. 10: I heard Richard Stallman give a talk on GPLv3 (hosted by Larry Lessig, show to the right). I even posted the pictures to Flickr, assuming I’d have time to blog about it. Stanford has a recording online in the obscure (open standard) Ogg Vorbis format, which requires installing a special player. According to my notes, Stallman claimed the major GPLv3 benefits are: international legal compatibility, patent retalliation clauses, anti-TiVo clauses, anti-DMCA clauses, and compatibility with other OSS licenses.
  • Sept. 17: After denying the possibility, the New York Times cancelled its TimesSelect paid online content experiment. As Steve Johnson of the Chicago Tribune said: “the white flag has been waved on the notion that content in the digital realm is worth anything close to what it is in the tangible world”; since then, Rupert Mudoch has predicted he will take the WSJ in the same direction. Interestingly, running the numbers for an MBA assignment, it’s hard to see how the NYT could shift from dead tree to online content without a 90% cut in staff.
  • Sept. 28: Palm probably helped its revenues with the introduction of the Centro. But it’s hard to see how a cheap version of the Treo solves the fundamental problem that its R&D no longer produces differentiation.
  • Oct. 4: EBay’s $1.4 billion writedown of its 2005 Skype acquisition for $2.5 billion. As noted by skeptics at the time Skype was acquired, Skype has a lot of customers but not much of a revenue model (freemium or not). Or, as we used to say, “losing money on every customer but making it up on volume.”
  • Nov. 4: The release of the new business memoir by Tom Perkins, the co-founder of Kleiner Perkins who shows why he was one of the few heros of the past decade of HP’s bumbling and mismanagement. The corresponding 60 Minutes interview wasn’t very insightful, as it mainly was about Leslie Stahl attacking him having for bitter policy fights with female business leaders. However, at least we got to see the Maltese Falcon, his 88 meter computerized sailing yacht that’s the size of a 19th century cargo ship.
  • Nov. 9: Three months after I questioned the business model, Sprint dropped plans to implement WiMax in partnership with Clearwire. It’s a big negative for WiMax, a bigger negative for Clearwire, and also bad news for Craig McCaw, the non-executive chairman who controls Clearwire. On Nov. 14, allies of Clearwire chairman Craig McCaw leaked to the WSJ that he has other buyers seeking to bail out Clearwire, but that seems more like a negotiating ploy than real news.
  • Nov. 9. Apple’s iPhone rolled out in the UK and Germany. Unlike the US rollout, I didn’t witness what happened but I gather the iPhone was achieved modest success. To confirm the latter point, on Nov. 13 the CEO of China Mobile (the world’s largest cell phone carrier) said he’s talking to Apple and his stock gained 6.6%.
  • Nov. 11: In my Sunday paper, the Mercury News noticed that the unusual rash of IPOs of the dot-bomb era didn’t last, and (surprise!) that firms are being acquired rather than going public. Acquisition has historically been the exit strategy of most tech startups for the past 50 years — it was rare that everything worked just right to IPO (and in some cases, like, that shouldn’t have gone public)
  • Nov. 12: A great article by Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols announced that the Open Document Foundation has closed shop, alleging that the foundation’s founders Sun and IBM tried to sabotage document interoperability, and instead endorsing W3C’s Compound Document Format. I’ve had my differences with SJVN — he’s on the true-believer end of open source reporters — but he’s really captured well a complex story: in the end, neither the ODF nor CDF faction comes across as completely credible.
  • Nov. 14: Katherine Boehret (Walt Mossberg’s deputy) doesn’t really care for the Zune — saying that this year’s Zune is competing with last year’s iPod. Of course, this conclusion does raise for Apple the classic question for innovation-based business models: if you stop being a moving target, the competition will catch up. Can Apple find something to do every year to differentiates its music-video players? It’s running out of ideas for the Mac, just as Sony did for TVs and VCRs and DVD players. (Yes, this year’s flat panel screens are better than last year’s).
  • Nov. 16: Warner Music CEO Edgar Bronfman admits that “Jobs was right. I was wrong” in pricing iTunes downloads. I think this is evidence that (as with the NYT case), the changes for an online world will be wrenching but survival is possible.
I hope to resume blogging again — not as much as I did in July, but more than the past two months. I’m guessing that my focus will be on the gPhone and (related) Linux Mobile platforms, as well as my own research.

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