Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Ch Ch Ch changes...

Nat keeps changing the post to which Inaugural posting referred.

For example, we have this addition:
The greatest lesson of open source may be its ability to excite and galvanize developers, for whatever reason. Microsoft has feebly tried to copy the best bits, with blogs.msdn.com and channel 9.

OK, whatever. You say "feebly" I say tomato. Traffic volume to blogs.msdn.com blows away traffic to any other blog. 'nuff said. Fact of the matter is you and Miguel are still "innovating" by copying all of .Net into Linux. What's next for Linux, copying the MacOS UI? You guys crack me up.
Now, everyone knows that Microsoft's market and cash position give them more room for error than any other company in existence. And Microsoft has stood up remarkably well to the decline of IT fortunes, while other companies have fallen hard. And above all, they are fighters. But things have definitely changed in Redmond.


This last one is John Stewart funny. In the original post, Nat claimed that MSFT had come 65% off its high. I called him out in email and he revised the estimate downward to 40%. Now he's not even willing to put up a number, he just makes some vague claims about how things have "definitely changed in Redmond". And this guy is one to be trusted about anything that has "definitely" done this or that in Redmond? Nat freely admits that he has never worked for Microsoft, so it is funny to see him claim that he knows anything about the climate within Microsoft.

It's unfortunate that I have to attack Nat personally, but he opens himself up for this kind of attack by being such a dumbass.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005

Where are Nat and Miguel?

I've noticed that since my email flame war with Nat, and the subsequent creation of this blog, Nat has been very careful not to criticize Microsoft in his blog. Coincidence? Most likely, but I'd like to think that getting his ass handed to him had something to do with it. The reality is that he's probably too busy beating up his Linux laptop out of frustration for poor device support.

Friday, February 18, 2005

YAGS

So now Nat and co. are working on YAGS (Yet Another Groupware Suite). This smells a lot like Mono. Novell is open sourcing 200,000 lines of Netmail code. I guess that makes the Netmail price list obsolete. If you already paid for Netmail, then I guess the joke is on you. Why aren't you laughing? Novell never did make any money from Netmail, so I guess they decided to open source it, so hackers can augment it and maybe lots of people will start using it, thereby killing one of Novell's three revenue pillars, Groupwise? If YAGS is so cool, and free, why on earth would I re-up my Groupwise license?

This raises a fundamental fiscal question. Why do commercial software vendors like Novell adopt the open source model? What is the financial gain to be made by giving away your software and source code? I can think of only two reasons:
1) Sell services, not software
2) We suck, maybe some kids can help us out

Let's start by noting that Novell's CEO, Jack Messman, replaced Eric Schmidt when Eric was forced out by the board as part of Novell's purchase of Cambridge Technology Partners a few years back. Jack ran CTP, a consulting and services firm, and the idea behind that deal was that selling services is more lucrative than selling software. Ever since, Novell has been quietly shifting its business model to a service-oriented one. Eric has a PhD in computer science, Jack, well, not so much. I think Jack probably has a G.E.D. or something (or maybe it was an MBA from Harvard, which seem to be about a dime a dozen these days). Lucky for Jack, though, he hired Chris Stone to do all of his heavy lifting, then sent him to business school when things started to go wrong, and fired him when things started to go more wrong. Jack is running out of people to fire. The main problem with this strategy is that it's simply not paying off. Despite several recent huge acquisitions, Novell's revenue is flat, and in fact in FY 2000 it was $1.62 billion, and after spending hundreds of millions on acquisitions since then, in FY 2004 it was $1.66 billion. Compare that with Microsoft, which tallied revenues of $22.96 billion in FY 2000 and $32.19 billion in FY 2003 (most recent FY). That's nearly 50% revenue growth (compared to NOVL's < 3%) during a recession, folks. To paraphrase a popular slogan, "who do you want to work for today?"

As an interesting aside, Jack Messman's base salary ($1.1 million) is higher than Sun's Scott McNealy ($104K), Microsoft's Bill Gates ($903K), Microsoft's Steve Ballmer ($909K), Google's Eric Schmidt ($554K), Yahoo's Terry Semel ($601K), and Apple's Steve Jobs ($0). Can someone please slap whoever said "you get what you pay for"? Update: Jack gave himself a nearly $1 million bonus this year for his stellar performance. NOVL employees: did you get a 100% bonus too? If not, maybe you should consider working for Microsoft.

Notice how Novell hasn't offered to open up the source to any of its software cash cows like Groupwise or ZENworks? The company jewels, the software that sells, remains locked up. What is being opened up are the products that never made a dime in revenue for Novell, likely in the hopes that some smart young hackers will figure out a way to make them difficult to integrate into an enterprise environment. Then Novell can sell you a bunch of "services" so that you can use your "free" software. Open source company? Um, nope.

Make no mistake, despite the earnest-sounding "make software, not money" mantra constantly spouted by Nat and Miguel, Novell is a publicly traded company, and as such is presumably trying to turn a buck. They're not in the open source business because it gives them the warm fuzzies. They're in it because they think they can extract more cash from their customers by selling them "services" and "solutions" than by selling them software. You need look no further than Jack Messman's resume to see that this is true. Say what you will about Microsoft, but at least we all know where they stand. Here's a box with some software in it, pay me $50 and it's yours, and you probably won't have to pay someone $150/hour to help you make it work.

A more cynical view of Novell's open source ambitions is that they don't think they have the in-house talent to compete with the likes of Microsoft. I tend not to subscribe to this view, mainly because I worked for Novell and know from experience that they have some top notch software developers in Provo. Remember that it was this bunch of "redneck hicks" in Utah (which would be the flyover state Novell is in) that produced the legendary security and stability of the Netware platform. I think the problem is that Novell's Massachussetts-based management simply can't believe that Utahns can be, and are, extremely smart. From what I can gather, the executive committee views the developers in Provo as a captured labor force, who can be ignored and otherwise mistreated because they have nowhere else to go in Utah, and most won't leave Utah for cultural reasons. They ignore the fact that a lot of these guys are really sharp, and when they complain about Novell's direction, they probably have a valid point. The result is rampant cynicism within Novell, and the promotion to high levels of people who say yes sir. One thing that surprised me about Microsoft is that "counterculture" flourishes here. If you think a Microsoft product sucks, you're encouraged to speak up, and your feedback is actually considered seriously, assuming you have a valid alternative and are not just whining.

So what does this mean for you, as a business decision maker? It means that with open source "solutions" you don't really have any idea what your costs will be. Software = free, configuration = ??, support = ??, etc. And that's if you're lucky enough to get the 16 year old kid who wrote your software to put down his iPod long enough to answer his cell phone, and quit worrying about losing his virginity.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Unix hurts like the million daggers of disembowlment

Wow. Apparently even the slashdotters are pretty pissed off about the sorry state of the *nix family of operating systems:

OUCH! That *nix stuff hurts!

Heck, even Miguel has "issues" with the *nix architecture:
Let's make Unix not suck

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Bloom coming off MSFT rose followup

In "Inaugural Posting", I cited a real reference about the general decline in CS enrollment to counter Nat's claim that perhaps it's just Microsoft. Well, it turns out that my "real" reference has been further validated. This is not a trend which makes me particularly happy, I just mention it to point out how far out to lunch Nat is.

Friday, November 05, 2004

Inaugural Posting

To start things off, let's begin by dissecting a blog post by Nat on October 18, 2004.

1. Nat says that "Microsoft has become a depressing place to work".
One of the most interesting changes in the last five years is that Microsoft has become a depressing place to work.
First of all, this assertion is categorically untrue. Nat's reference is another blog. I'm not sure who this guy at minimsft is, but to cite one blogger's opinion as a definitive source seems pretty dubious. If I were going to make this claim, I would cite a poll of employee morale.

Working for Microsoft rocks!

There, now someone can cite my blog to refute Nat's. I even put it on its own line, in bold no less. This is the kind of epistemology which the blogosphere encourages, and which too many blog readers buy into.

By the way, I work for Microsoft and I find it anything but depressing. So far, Nat is 0 for 1.

2. In the next sentence Nat says:

Microsoft embodies the old-world software mentality: large-scale, abstraction-driven, developer-focused, client-based, all founded on high-margin licenses of intellectual property.

I'm not really sure what Nat is driving at here. For the most part, the development model at Novell is not that much different from that at Microsoft. Sure, Novell dabbles in open source software, but read their financials and you will find that the lion's share of their revenue comes from their proprietary offerings: Netware, Groupwise, and ZENworks. It would be hard to make an argument that any of these products follows anything other than the "old-world software mentality" which Nat derides. Nat never does say what's wrong with "large-scale, abstraction-driven, developer-focused, client-based" software. And it's pretty clear that Novell's flagship offerings are "founded on high-margin licenses of intellectual property".

What's wrong with large-scale? Some software, like enterprise management or accounting packages are by necessity "large-scale". Is Nat suggesting that enterprises should cobble together a myriad of "small-scale" software to tackle industrial strength tasks?

What's wrong with abstraction-driven? I might be obtuse, but I thought the whole point of object oriented languages like C++, Java, and C# was to provide even more powerful abstraction.

What's wrong with developer-focused? Making an OS developer-friendly is one of the keys to getting smart people to write applications that run on your OS. Just look at MacOS. It is extremely "user-friendly", but has never managed to gain much of a foothold in the developer community. To me, the developer focus of Windows is one of the great MS strokes of genius.

What's wrong with client-based? Sure, this means a footprint on the workstation, and I know many people in the industry embrace the fantasy of a zero-byte client. But with today's hardware, most of the spare cycles are on the client, why not push processing to the place where it can be serviced? SETI@Home understands this.

3. Nat's "frequent slips" link is an article about a single slip:
Their all-at-once approach to software development means long, risk-prone release cycles and frequent slips. Meanwhile, even Apple puts a new version of Mac OS X out every year, and of course Linux is highly modular and new functionality is continuously available to those who want it.
Microsoft produces literally hundreds of software products, and to extrapolate this single slip to "frequent slips" is a bit disingenous, to say the least. But this is typical Nat. Nevermind that his company, Novell, follows the all-at-once approach to software development for Netware, Groupwise, and ZENworks, to name but a few. And nevermind that Nat has the audacity to claim that Apple puts out a new version of Mac OS X every year... um... shouldn't it be like Mac OS XII by now then? Other companies call these yearly "releases" service packs.

4. Nat goes on to complain about Microsoft's focus on developers:
Microsoft's focus has always been on developers, and when you hear Ballmer and Gates talking about Longhorn, you hear them talking about WinFS, Avalon, and Indigo: terms that mean nothing to software users, but that are endlessly interesting to developers.
It's interesting to note at this point, that Miguel (Nat's Ximian cohort) spends most of his time porting C# and .NET to Linux. I think it's safe to say that a programming language and virtual machine infrastructure are developer-centric. So if Microsoft is making such a mistake here, why is Ximian spending so much time playing catch-up?

Hypocrisy aside, these technologies will have tangible benefits to users, because developers will be able to create more interesting and powerful applications on top of them.

5. Nat touts low-tech scripting languages and derides Longhorn features as "erudite fluff":
The web has taught people that low-tech stuff can be really productive. Lots of people are using PHP, Perl and Python in areas you wouldn't expect. These are real, salt-of-the-earth tools. By contrast Avalon and some of Microsoft's other recent efforts at programming environment design look like out-of-touch erudite fluff, with a rank odor of cubicleware evident from miles away.
He even cites a reference for this, Miguel's blog. Nat is quite right that people are using high level scripting languages in lots of places you wouldn't expect. That's part of the reason you have to upgrade your hardware every couple of years. I wonder if by "other recent efforts at programming environment design" Nat means .NET, which he and Miguel are currently porting to Linux.

Maybe Nat is just more comfortable with VB and PHP, I don't really know. Maybe issues like memory management really are too hard for the open source community to deal with. Honestly, I thought these guys were smarter than that.

6. Nat speculates that maybe there aren't fewer bright people interested in IT careers, maybe they're just not interested in working for Microsoft:
But indications are that for the world's most talented hackers, the bloom might be coming off the Microsoft rose. Gates keeps lamenting that talented people are losing interest in IT, and has recently been stumping for the field. But what if he's got a dark window on the IT world not because software is failing to attract bright developers, but because Microsoft is failing to attract bright developers?
And as a reference he cites, you guessed it, another blog. A real source points to a general decline in enrollment in computer science programs. Still, Microsoft gets about 1,000 resumes per day.

7. In response to customer concerns about the business model for open source software, Nat answers the question with another question, what is the business model for software? Unfortunately, he doesn't grace us with an answer:
And the worst bit of news for the Company that Copyright Built is that software business models are changing. People often ask me what the business model is for open source. Lately I've been telling them that they ought to ask what the business model is for software. The only thing that's for sure is that no one is going to get their own private jet for writing a spreadsheet program anymore.
Ask yourself this: Is it smart to invest in a software company whose executives can't answer their own question about the business model for software?

8. Finally, Nat relates to us his experience with Microsoft:

The day they offered me a job five years ago, the employment brochure (which I just found the other day, cleaning out my office) was full of testimonials from young Microsofties talking about how cool it is to write software that millions of people use.

I'm really not sure what has changed since then. Perhaps Nat will enlighten me...
Microsoft's stock has since come maybe 40% off their high; a fall, but not a big fall compared to the other companies squeezing through the eye of the needle after the tech stock bubble burst.
This is pretty funny, because Nat's post originally said something about how MSFT had come 65% off their high (luckily, someone quoted the original), which was completely factually inaccurate, and I called him out on it in an email. He has since revised his estimate downwards to 40%. I still don't know where Nat got 40% from, maybe someone other than me could crunch the numbers and let me know how he might have arrived at this figure? I would just like to point out that, despite the recent purchases of Ximian and SuSE, NOVL is currently at a whopping 17% of its internet bubble peak.

But this is not Nat's real point:
The real change appears to be in the climate. I'm glad I didn't go to work for Microsoft, but not because I got to do something cool elsewhere, or because they're "bad people;" I'm glad I didn't go to work for Microsoft because that place doesn't seem like fun anymore.
Nat directly references a post by the minimsft blogger for this assertion, taking the post completely out of context. I just don't get how someone can cite a single person's opinion, with no context (hell, maybe this minimsft guy is on the chopping block as a low performer, who knows?), as a definitive source on Microsoft morale, and expect to be credible. I guess the answer is, welcome to the blogosphere, sucka! As long as your assertion is underlined, has a different color from the rest of your text, and when I click on it I go to another blog, then it must be true!

I work for Microsoft and it rocks!


...

As for me, Friday I attended a theory group talk at MS Research (MS Research organizes talks on a nearly daily basis), then went to a party to celebrate $37 million in employee charity donations where I got to watch executives sing karaoke and take a plunge in a fountain. What could be more fun? :) If you're still skeptical, we had free beer, wine, and hors d'oeuvres. And then we rented out Qwest field for our ship party on Monday. Cool perks, but the coolest thing about working at Microsoft is that I get to interact with extremely smart people from all over the world, which is something I haven't been able to do since grad school.

And by the way, I also got to work on software that millions of people use.