For the Week of October 6, 2003
Netscape was one of the most important start-ups in history, because it created a platform. The Web platform has since changed everything. We're still getting the productivity benefits from having every PC and network application tied to it.
Many people forget that Netscape was a "second act." Marc Andreessen was the front man, but Jim Clark was the Real Man. In 1994, when Netscape was founded, Clark's first start-up, Silicon Graphics, was already starting its slow fade to black because the platform it built, the "Graphics Supercomputer," was being done-in by Moore's Law.
The Netscape platform resulted in the Greatest Boom of All Time. But all the great platforms do that. Microsoft Windows created the Multimedia Boom, Apple created the PC Boom (IBM was a copycat), while Novell created the LAN boom and 3Com the Network Boom. What made Netscape's Boom so big was its platform combined all these other booms, magnified them, and enabled them all to catch a second wind. It was a catalyst.
I was heartened to read that Bill Joy now wants to join John Doerr in a Second Act. It made me positively giddy.
But if that Second Act is to be truly memorable, they need to build a platform that is simple enough for the mass market, that magnifies all the booms that preceded it, and that is open to further innovation.
Always-On represents that opportunity.
Let's start with two Sun innovations. Java is read once, run anywhere software. Even if Microsoft doesn't support it, you get a Java Virtual Machine and your PC is part of it. Here's another important Sun innovation - a new circuit board design that basically eliminates wires, and lets you build modules as small as the chips that contain them. It transforms the PC from a collection of parts into true consumer electronics, a Walkman you fix by replacing.
Now, our platform is a server, with a radio, that can live literally anywhere - on your refrigerator, in your bedroom, in the hallway, or on your desk. The radio could always include 802.11, but it would be defined by Java coded firmware, a Software Defined Radio, so it might also support, say, UWB. (UWB is important for when you want the server to penetrate clients in, say, a refrigerator.)
This server can be "controlled" by a home PC, with a broadband connection used to then link that PC (and the server) to the larger Internet. Just as important, this server platform is flexible enough to provide that connection itself. The same architecture that lets a server see into your refrigerator will make a server that acts as an 802.11 home router and gateway. The same architecture that supports 802.11 will support Bluetooth connections among components. The idea is that you eliminate wires, and provide computing power near where it's needed - the sensors.
Ah, yes, the sensors. These are the clients in the World of Always-On. What are these sensors, and what are they doing? Well, the sensors could be RFID tags on the products in your fridge. They could be tags on your pill bottles. They could be literally on you, monitoring your heart, your blood, your sugar. They could be replacing your home security system, watching your doors or windows. They could be in your car. Eventually they will be in the street. What they are is open to application developers.
The low-hanging fruit here, of course, lies in medical applications. Stick a sensor under your watch to keep a constant check on your blood pressure. Stick one behind your ear, or between your toes, anywhere near blood to track your sugar or cholesterol. Stick them throughout the house to monitor the activities of your grandma, to make sure she takes her medicine, to make sure she's OK, to keep her independent yet within easy reach of her doctor and children. Can you imagine the value created by these applications, the lives saved, the money made? Fill the hospital with sensors and it starts to look like a hotel, and you've actually lowered the cost of care because sensors are so easily replaced.
Like I said, all this is low hanging fruit, but once you've built any of these applications into someone's life, you've got the home server, you've got the platform, and now you can do other things. You can build new applications, and sell new, compatible servers for elsewhere in the house. You can keep track of my video collection, my favorite TV shows (Tivo-link), my car keys and wallet (my personal favorite), my schedule. Now you have an underlying architecture for that Personal Server that Intel is working on - and suddenly the whole platform is mobile. The mobile platform will support both 802.11 and cellular, maybe it will be inside your phone (once a supplier like Motorola licenses it). Now you're connecting your office life and your personal life, with alerts tied to your scheduler so you can act from where you are when something happens to a loved one, without losing your whole day. Imagine the money you can make from that.
What the World of Always-On needs is someone to define a platform, a hardware-software platform that can bring the power of wireless networks, and sensors, together with the world of the Internet and the PC that we already have. People will want to buy bunches of home servers to monitor specific applications, but they will also want to upgrade their PCs to process all this data, upgrade their Internet connections to track all this remotely, and upgrade their cellular connections to stay in touch with it. Thus, the Always-On boom becomes a catalyst for all sorts of other things - just as Netscape became a catalyst for every e-store, blog and ISP that exists today.
This is the Biggest Idea out there, but it will take some big talent to really get it going, the kind of talent you can find in Bill Joy and John Doerr.
Here's the future, gentlemen -- take it. Carpe diem.
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Takes on the News
Microsoft Grows Up
To me Microsoft has always felt like an immature company.
Its success was so out-sized for its founders that they had to laugh about it. My favorite story from those days is of Gates and Ballmer heading to Wall Street for their IPO on a lawyer-required First Class ticket and hollering into the in-flight phones about how much money they were wasting. As late as the 1990s Gates preferred stuffing his bag into a coach overhead to playing the part of the Rockefeller he had become.
This extended to Microsoft's business strategies. Microsoft kept its eyes focused in the far distance. Its profits from operating systems and the Office application suite allowed this. It could make a lot of big mistakes that would kill other companies - Microsoft Bob, Windows for Pens, Passport - confident that it would eventually find its way.
This has now changed. Microsoft has become focused on today's bottom line. That is a big story.
Microsoft's decisions to close its chat rooms, offer a minimal real upgrade to Microsoft Office and focus on server licenses and mainframe replacement are all of a piece. They reflect a mature, Fortune 500 company focused on the bottom line.
Microsoft's chat rooms were costly, and they hurt its image. Closing them does it no damage, and users can easily find alternatives. (Most kids are now more into IM than chat anyway.) But it's also important to look at the other bottom-line actions Microsoft has taken, with this as cover.
Microsoft will begin charging a royalty to other companies that access its Instant Messenger, rather than continuing to try and build market share against AOL. It is refocusing IM as a mobile phone technology, and trying to put its charges in line with those of MMS. This is a smart move, but mainly in the short term. Future market share is being sacrificed on the altar of profit.
This is not altogether a bad thing. Microsoft Windows is becoming a mainframe operating system. Microsoft is becoming more like IBM. Microsoft is closing the financial leaks in its system, so it can concentrate revenue on continuing its dividend and closing the leaks in its operating system.
But maturity has its price, as all those who have reached it know well. For one thing, maturity provides opportunities to the immature. It also leaves a void in leadership - there is one less set of eyes focused firmly on the far horizon.
Good News In Do Not Call Decision
The good news
is that the legislature quickly overturned the Oklahoma panel's ruling, which was done on the bogus grounds that Congress hadn't authorized the list's creation. (If they didn't authorize it, how do you explain their authorizing money for it?)
Congress will even be pressed to close the "First Amendment" holes it built for charities in the bill, as exposed by a Denver judge . The more difficult judges make this, the more demanding consumers will become. Congress will be forced to get it right.
The important, overriding point here is that for the first time the popular will is going to override an industry's desire to halt change. Tech users are going to win one. And I think that will embolden people. It's an important point to remember when you consider California's anti-spam law .
It doesn't matter what courts try to do in order to protect spam. Spam is destroying the Internet and spam must go. The only question at this point is how that is done. The test voters and users will apply is whether a law actually reduces spam - that's a test the current U.S. Congress proposal does not meet.
All the bills discussed in the link above are going to be noticed by tech users now, and tech users are going to demand legislative action in line with the market, not in line with the interests of its big players. This is a major change in attitudes, although I expect the earthquake here will only hit in 2005.
Oh, here's my anti-spam law. Every commercial list must have a permission audit, and that audit must be made available to any government agency at the drop of a complaint. No audit, and we cut off your Internet access. Bad audit, we fine you. Scofflaw on the audit, and we throw you in jail.
It's about permission, stupid. Spam is a mass commercial e-mail sent to me without permission. The laws regarding paper mail don't apply, because I don't pay to get paper mail while everyone pays when you send e-mail.
At some point this will get through. The outcry over the Do Not Call list brings that day closer.
PCs Are Consumer Electronics
Dell's move into consumer electronics was as inevitable as Kodak's move into digital photography.
But there is a bigger theme at work here, a key Clue. PCs are now consumer electronics.
The days of the component PC are past. A component PC, consisting of boards in a box, with separate monitor, printer, and modem, is obsolete.
Whether you buy it as a laptop, a pen-top or a PDA, a PC is now a unitary object, usually bought at a consumer electronics price point of under $1,000. When a consumer electronics product breaks you don't fix it, you get another one. So, too, with PCs.
So all PC companies are now consumer electronics companies, just as all camera companies are now digital camera companies.
Dell has the right vision for the consumer market. They want to deliver a broad line of consumer electronics tied to digital input and output, along with the expertise needed for people to use them. The question remains, can it implement that vision?
To do it, Dell must create a market in broadband digital content.
I suggest Dell put its money where its mouth is. Its market capitalization today is over $87 billion. Why isn't it buying a music publisher? Why wasn't it involved in the Universal auction? It could easily buy both EMI and Warner Music, leaving present executives in charge while it executes a new online sales strategy aimed at ending the Copyright Wars.
What about it?
Clued-in is Google , the Howard Dean of Internet Commerce. It just keeps growing, now at 150,000 advertisers.
Clueless is the U.S. State Department , which got hit by the Welchia worm and lost its files.
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