Open for Business

Thursday, September 29, 2005

Fleury on his surprising pact with the...

As a follow up to my entry on the JBoss / Microsoft partnership, you may want to check out this interview by Martin LaMonica. In it Martin asks some questions we would have liked to ask Marc, unfortunately Marc is not as outspoken as we know him, his answers are on the safe side… Here are some elements that caught my attention:

- Marc confirms that the world is not monolithic; he said that 50% of JBoss users deploy it on Windows. Frankly I thought it would be less than that and more in favor of Linux.

- One of the main intents in this deal (from a JBoss perspective) is to gain credibility

- Both companies are going to commit resources, as an example Fleury said that his portal team is looking into integrating JBoss with integrating Active Directory and single sign-on

- He considers BEA (less now) and IBM as his main competition today but he did mention Oracle (currently the fastest growing app server on the market), Sun, and RedHat.

- I disagree with Fleury on the fact that software licenses are not the profitable part of the business for software companies. Revenue from licensing typically scales much better than services. Companies like Microsoft and Oracle are good examples of profitable software companies. This said, even if margins on services (just like hardware) are less interesting than charging for downloads, many companies are doing great with the services part of their business and IBM is a good example (little less than $50B last year in services only).

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Is Apple Going to Recall the Nanos and Reinstate the Minis?

It always starts with a presentation by Steve Jobs. If you haven't seen him selling his products yet, I highly recommend this video. This guy can sell ice to Eskimos. He is one of the best CEOs/Evangelists alive. Of course it helps when what you are selling are some of the coolest and most amazingly designed products on the planet.

Not so long ago (9/7/05), Apple announced the iPod Nano. Jobs called it impossibly small and magic. And that’s true, I ran to the nearest Apple store and held one in my hands and sure enough it’s magic. I love gadgets and even though I already own two iPods, I almost bought this one (I am not the only one). Well, I am glad I didn't. Here is why.

- First of all the impossibly small device is also impossibly delicate/fragile. There are so many reports out there of people cracking their Nano screens or scratching them. Just Google it or go to and read the reviews. People are mad! Here is an example: "I have only carried it in my small pocket in my shorts and nothing is in there to scratch it. I still can't figure how the screen looks like it has been rubbed with sandpaper. My screen has scratched up so badly that all the images are starting to become distorted."

- What made the iPod Nano so famous is actually my main problem with it: SIZE (62% smaller than the now-discontinued iPod mini). For me it's way too small/thin. If I put it in my back pocket (and I can because it fits everywhere) and I sit on it, it's gone! Okay, the fact that I weigh 200 lbs doesn't help. If I don't sit on it I can forget it in my jeans and stick it in the washing machine. So its size makes it easier to brake but also easier to lose or misplace (I know that women reported having difficulties finding it in their purse). I truly believe the iPod Mini's size is the ideal size for me, I don’t recall complaining about its size or hearing anybody saying they needed an iPod smaller than the already compact Mini.

A couple of suggestions for Apple:

- Reinstate the iPod Mini and let people who can afford to buy the Nano every time they break it, lose it, or scratch it so bad they can’t even read the screen; have at it!

- Put all the great Nano enhancements in the truly sturdy and proven iPod Mini (Apple sold more Minis than any other iPods). Some of the features I like about the Nano are the color/bright display and the flash memory which, unlike the miniature hard drives used by the Mini, have no moving parts and this makes the device less fragile and more reliable. I am not so much into pictures on my MP3 player (or my phone for that matter) for the same reason I don't need a toaster imbedded in my DVD player, I use both but not at the same time. Who can enjoy pictures on a 1.5-inch screen anyway?

One last complaint and then I'm done; I promise. If you haven’t noticed it yet, one important reason Apple wants you to own an iPod is the sell iTunes. This is great, a bit like the Gillette model, cheap razors as long as you buy the blades. Or the HP model, cheap printers, expensive ink cartridges… Except that iPods are everything but cheap. I am a little disappointed with the fact the Apple makes it very difficult for us to move our MP3 music in and out of our iTunes/iPod. My analogy still holds, HP cartridges cannot be used in Cannon printers, etc. The reality is that encoding schemes such as AAC and Apple Lossless don't have the wide support that the MP3 format has. So Apple limits you in terms of what you can do with your music outside of iTunes and the iPod. Every iPod can play MP3 and AAC files, but Apple Lossless works only on iPods with a dock connector. If you use a non-Apple MP3 player, you're even more limited: they don’t support AAC or Apple Lossless. Likewise, many newer car/home stereo systems can play CDs containing MP3 files, making this a great way to store long music mixes for a road trip or a party. But if you burn a playlist as an MP3 CD, iTunes skips over AAC and Apple Lossless tracks.

I hope Apple takes some of these interoperability issues into account for their next products/releases otherwise I may switch to a competitor even if it will never offer me the same design quality and user experience I get with Apple products.

[Update] Check out this hilarious video posted on the NY Times.

Can You Believe This?!

Who would have thought that Microsoft and JBoss (yes you read it right an OPEN SOURCE application server company) would ever be anywhere together but in a battlefield or a court of law? Well, they just announced earlier today a tight partnership whereby the two companies are going to collaborate in several areas. One of them is that JBoss' persistence layer (using Hibernate or EJB3.0) is going to support Microsoft SQL Server; another area of collaboration would be JBoss deployment/management using Microsoft Operations Manager or JBoss supporting Microsoft's Active Directory for single sign-on… This deal does not seem to involve money but the companies have committed to dedicate development resources.

Who's loving it?

- I can hear OSS purists say how in the world can Marc Fleury touch Microsoft a with a 10-foot poll after everything he said about them? It's called business! In my opinion Marc Fleury pulled off a sweet deal, it adds to JBoss' credibility as a company and a product. Believe me I used to run an infrastructure software startup and credibility is a huge deal!

- Microsoft hates endorsing Java or open source but they had to recognize that the world out there is all but monolithic and most CIOs say that both .Net and Java cohabit in their systems. In other words, Microsoft chose JBoss as its interoperability play/partner. Finally is always happy when it can punch IBM in the face, and this is clearly pointing the gun at IBM who's investing in Geronimo (via the Gluecode acquisition) to eliminate JBoss from the map. Anything that helps JBoss disserves IBM's middleware story. BTW, I don't buy IBM's message when they say that open-source application servers have a place in the market for smaller installations and departmental applications, to that end, we bought Gluecode whose product is based on Apache's Geronimo application server. In other words it's a migration play from Geronimo to WebSphere. I think it’s a play to destroy JBoss. Time will tell but I have a feeling today's announcement will do everything but weaken JBoss.

Who's feeling the pain?

- IBM for the reasons mentioned above. Anything that serves JBoss (small enemy) and Microsoft (the real enemy) doesn’t sit well with big blue.

- This announcement's timing is horrible for BEA. Today is the first day of BEA's main event BEAWorld. As if the once-sexy-middleware-company wasn’t hurting enough with OSS commoditizing their #1 source of revenue (WebLogic) much faster than BEA could come up with adjacent areas of growth.

- Microsoft is sending a message to Sun. We know you have Glassfish (also an open source application server) and we told the world that we are the greatest friends now and that we were going to cooperate a lot more moving forward. Ooops Sorry, your app server isn't good enough. We'll have to find new friends: JBoss.

This seemingly happy marriage needs to be taken with a grain of salt for the following reasons:

- I want to see what these two companies will actually develop and if it makes sense. In a way SOA already bridges the .Net and J2EE worlds and it will do so even better as time goes by and as software a service (SaaS) becomes the ruling architecture for building software. Oracle already offers a variety of ways to tie .Net services to J2EE applications using Web services and the BPEL Process Manager.

- Let's see how JBoss' biggest supporters (OSS advocates) and strongest partners (such as MySQL) react to this rather surprising news. MySQL cannot be happy about this alliance which makes JBoss look friendly to SQL Server. These are the people (OSS community + partners) who made JBoss who they are today and pissing them off could be costly. They may consider switching horses and transfer their support onto Geronimo, Jonas/RedHat, Tomcat, etc.

- Last, history shows us that getting too close to Microsoft is very rarely a good thing especially when they hate what you stand for Java and open source. I can still hear Steve Ballmer calling open source "cancer" or saying "We compete with products. We don't compete with movements." Microsoft is like a female praying mantis. The female mantis often kills and eats the male immediately after or even during mating. So my advice to JBoss is to enjoy the love while it lasts.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Microsoft vs. Mass - Episode II

As a follow up to my previous blog entry I thought I would share with you another episode of the Microsoft vs. OpenDocument fight. After the state of Massachusetts' final decision to kick Microsoft out of roughly 50,000 desktop PCs, Alan Yates General Manager with Microsoft wrote a letter to Eric Kriss (Secretary of the Executive Office for Administration and Finance) and Peter Quinn CIO of the state (and copied the state governor) to ask them to reconsider their choice claiming that they needed to do more research and that StarOffice, and KOffice were all one code base therefore not giving them as much choice as they thought they would get and questioning the validity of OpenDocument as a "standard". He also mentioned all the efforts being made by Microsoft to inject XML (read: a proprietary flavor of XML that cannot be exchanged with any non-Microsoft product except maybe some partners like SAP via Mendocino), etc.

The KOffice team replied on the popular Slashdot. I recommend reading Alan Yates' letter as well as the KOffice team response. But this clearly shows that even if Mass is far from being Microsoft's only Windows/Office customer they don't want to see this happen all over the planet as more government bodies in the US and elsewhere are showing serious interest in OpenDocument and industry standards as a way to increase their choice and maintain their
sovereignty. They rightfully feel that proprietary technologies are at odds with sovereignty.

My opinion is very much the same as what Massachusetts state officials explained, they have no problem with companies maintaining their intellectual property and selling software products like Microsoft Office, the real problem is the output (documents produced) by that software need to allow for easy exchange/interoperability and there is no better way to accomplish that than sticking with industry standards. Mass officials were pretty clear with what they meant by standards:

  • It must have no or absolutely minimal legal restrictions attached to it
  • It must be published and subject to peer review
  • It must be subject to joint stewardship

First Microsoft needs to drop its patents on the file formats, publish more openly the standard so it's publicly available for peer review, and make current and future versions subject to joint stewardship, after all this is done Mass officials promised they would reconsider Microsoft as a potential solution provider. That sounds perfectly fair to me!

As a result of this Mass vs. Microsoft healthy debate, Microsoft apparently stepped on its pride by making the license to the Office file formats perpetual and royalty-free. The state of Mass announced that the licensing decision by Microsoft is great but there are other sticking points such as future costs such as upgrading costs. The next version of Office will most likely not run on Windows 2K and they'll have to upgrade a ton of operating systems to XP (the state has ~ 80K employees)… This might be the beginning of the end of the unquestioned dominance of the Win/Office pair, may competition begin! Mass is saying there’s got to be a better way.