by Dana Blankenhorn
  Volume VIII, No. XLI

This Week's Clue: Pournelle's Law

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This Week's Clue: Pournelle's Law
SSP (Shameless Self Promotion)
Microsoft and Mobiles
Intel's Wi-MAX Plans
Is Desktop Linux A Fraud?
Clued-in, Clueless

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For the Week of October 11, 2004

For those who aren't familiar with this wisdom from the mind of Jerry Pournelle , let me begin by repeating it:

"If you don't know what you're doing, find someone who does, and pay them what they're worth."

I've had to drum this into my head many times over the last few months, as I helped a friend launch a new business. I just wish Pournelle's Law were as easy to put into practice as it is to state.

Over the last few months I've found myself re-writing manuals, creating a newsletter and (most recently) trying to code that letter into a product that can be delivered to mobile phones. Meanwhile my friend has found himself contracting for software and trying to write.

This is not what either of us is best at. My friend is a talker, a salesman, a motivator, an entrepreneur. I'm a writer, a journalist, a strategist, and (when I believe in the message) an evangelist.

What I've learned is that, without adequate capital, Pournelle's Law just can't be put into practice. You wind up in a chicken-and-egg situation - you need a site to get the money, and you need the money to build the site.

This is an old, old problem, and every business in existance has found a solution for it. It's Dana's Law of Entrepreneurship. No matter what you go into business to do, you stop doing it the moment you go into business. You become a businessman (or woman). I've known this for years which is why I don't usually go around starting businesses.

I know how to do a lot of things I really don't like to do. I understand marketing but I hate to sell. I understand organization but I'm woefully disorganized. Take me off this typewriter (yes, I know you call it a PC, but it will always be a typewriter to me) and I'm quickly at-sea. Thus a lot of opportunities in life have passed me by. Instead of wealth and fame I have happiness. (Oh, well.)

When we first started looking at this new business my friend and I consciously considered what we wanted our eventual roles to be. My friend, having gone through this before, knew at once what he wanted for himself, and I was happy to see him get it. He's the boss. I saw myself as the evangelist, sometimes traveling around the world pushing a great notion, sometimes coming up with strategic insights, sometimes writing.

You're right. My ideas were vague.

There is a second aspect to Pournelle's Law that stimulated this topic, which is Pournelle's Plot. Most of his Chaos Manor stories have a similar plot, that is, you want to go +1, but when you try to install it you go -1 and -1 and -1, so at some point you can't do anything until the expert saves you. In the end you're at +1 at last, which you count as progress.

In trying to review software for this new venture I found my new Windows XP machine had some problem with the kernel that kept it from running music translation. The solution, I figured, was to re-load Windows. But when I tried to do that, the program claimed "TSI Remote Services" was interfering, and I would have to un-install that program to proceed. Problem was, that program had already been removed, this was a ghost of an old Windows 95 program I'd installed years ago which apparently wrote something into another Windows file.

I went through all sorts of trips and dramas trying to get rid of the rest of this program. I lost three days to the problem overall. And it's still not solved. I've gone through the process (finally found on the program author's Web site) of manually erasing all files associated with the program, but XP still claims the thing is there, and (as I noted before) it won't proceed. This means that, if Windows somehow breaks, or becomes virus-ridden, my entire PC set-up is hosed.

Obviously I need an expert. But there's one big difference between helping launch a start-up and writing Pournelle's column. Pournelle had money, and the clout to get an expert in free. As I write I'm stuck with a classic Catch-22. I can't solve the problem without money, and I can't get to the money without solving the problem.

Somehow, however, I know I'll get through. The business will open. The money will be raised.

At which point I'll face a new problem. Who do I hire? Stay tuned.


Shameless Self-Promotion

I work as a freelance writer in Atlanta, and am on the development team for EgoScout , a new kind of marketplace for cellular data services.

My last book, "The Blankenhorn Effect" won the Computer/Internet category in the 2003 Independent Publisher (IPPY) awards .

You have my permission to forward this newsletter widely. And if you have trouble subscribing let me know. Remember: it's journalism that keeps the Clues coming...


Takes on the News

Microsoft and Mobiles

I have long felt that Microsoft had a key advantage in the mobile space because Windows runs a robust, scalable kernel and offers the best way for people to sell applications.

This last puts it ahead of Linux. The Linux business model is based on selling services. Microsoft has a huge team of people focused on building application software markets under its operating system.

Now ABI Research has put some numbers to this and the press is all in a dither.

What's interesting is the ABI report is its assumption that Microsoft will drop OS prices to the floor in order to gain market share, and even then Symbian will still be a player in 2009.

Both assumptions are just that, assumptions. And I don't think they will play out.

The main reason, as always, is Moore's Law. Phones will have the processing power and the networks necessary to enter the computing mainstream in 2005, not 2009. This means a real applications market is just a year away, and so are all the other demands of a PC-centric society.

Second, define floor. Is Microsoft really going to post prices for its OS that are substantially under those for Symbian? I don't think so. I don't think it needs to. MS-powered mobiles are already a substantial market. Now will Microsoft's prices fall below what it's presently selling for on a PDA? Of course. But that has to do with the nature of the PDA and mobile phone markets, not a deliberate Microsoft strategy.

Of course, there is another scalable OS out there, Linux.

Can Linux succeed in the mobile market? It can, if an embedded Linux vendor is able to create something like the Microsoft ecosystem for a mobile market. It doesn't have to be as good as Microsoft's ecosystem. It just has to be there, in all its pieces. Then launch in India, where English isn't a completely foreign language, where you have a more highly-developed market than the U.S. and where you have a host of entrepreuenrs anxious to find a space for themselves in application software.

No one has done that yet. But if no one does in the next two years the game will be over, and Microsoft will have won.


Intel's Wi-MAX Plans

Intel has published its plans for 802.16, or Wi-MAX.

Intel's roadmap just starts at the use of this technology for backhaul. Intel thinks that these base stations may be no bigger than present cellular backhauls, and in fact it thinks cellular carriers may take more of the gear than Wi-Fi outfits. (They had better, since Wi-Fi network development seems to have stalled in the face of cable-phone price-cutting.)

What's really interesting is what Intel expects to happen in about a year. Intel sees Wi-MAX replacing Wi-Fi, which makes me wonder what everyone's going to do with all those 100 Mbps 802.11n cards due out at the same time?

What happens then? "By 2006, technology based on the IEEE 802.16e standards will be integrated into portable computers to support movement between WiMAX service areas. This allows for portable and mobile applications and services. In the future, WiMAX capabilities will even be integrated into mobile handsets."

This road map means more than my opinion. It defines how a giant company is going to approach the equipment market. Take it that way. But remember there are other big companies, including Broadcom and TI, who have yet to be heard from. Intel has yet to win this market.

Is Desktop Linux A Fraud?

That's what Gartner Group says , that desktop Linux is really just a dodge to get a stripped-down PC that will actually run a pirated copy of Windows.

If it is a dodge, it's a dodge being perpetrated mainly by hardware creators working within Microsoft's own constraints. Certainly if pirates could get a PC without an OS they would. But this would put hardware companies like Dell in breach of their Microsoft agreements. So Linux distros are thrown into gray market PCs.

The story gives new perspective to reports of Microsoft creating cheap, stripped versions of Windows for foreign markets. Better they get something that they might profit from than get nothing.

What about all those governments that talk about running Linux, and all those politicians praising the penguin? All those projects are "are in the evaluation phase." In other words, they're Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt. Someone using FUD against Microsoft? I'm shocked, shocked, shocked!

When charges have been made against Linux in the past the Linux faithful have rushed to the operating system's defense. But if you don't hear anything, remember, you've heard everything. The dog that does not bark can be the key Clue.


Clued-in, Clueless

Clued-in is Richard Branson , who gets his money out from his SpaceShipOne investment even if it never flies again.

Clueless is Yahoo's new look . Excite lives!


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