TCI Global Competitiveness Conference in Portland, Oregon

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I’ll be giving the lunch keynote at the TCI Global Competitiveness Conference in Portland on Wednesday.

The info about the talk is

From Closed to Open—How the Technology Industry Learned to Share
Wednesday, October 10, 12-1:30 pm

In the IT industry, innovation is everything. For decades that meant the design, development and testing of new hardware and software was treated with the same seriousness and protection as national defense. Today, leading technology companies give away their patents, release their software to millions of consumers for testing and use tools that bear a striking resemblance to online games. Is this for real? Is it competitive? One of IBM’s gurus of open innovation brings the fascinating and unlikely story of how the technology industry learned to collaborate and what the future will bring.


  1. I think it’s like a magnet.

    At the North Pole, you have Microsoft as a dominant force.

    At the South Pole, you get the “leading technology companies giving away their patents, release their software to millions of consumers for testing and use tools that bear a striking resemblance to online games.”

    (IBM, ATT, Sun, Google, Novell, Red Hat, and a few others)

    The North Pole induces the South Pole; you can’t have the one without the other.

    Will it last ? Is it accidental, or organised ? Is it good for the consumer ?

    Do tell. I’m all ears.

  2. You know that is waaay too simplistic, Chris. The us vs them thinking is going out of style as people look behind some of these announcements to discover they are either vacuous (the patents wouldn’t stand up to a legal test, the technologies are loss leaders that need to be open source because the owner can’t afford to maintain or improve them) or deliberately targeted to cause other vendors to fight. It is the politics of division and distraction come to the software market.

    The virtual worlds standards story is now a mess of collossal proportions. Every day another company announces a prototype technology, says it will release its technology to the openSphere and fails to say what about their technology has any particular IP relevance that would require its release before anyone else can implement it. Then they go on to attempt to get numbers of registrants and claim huge subscriber bases without showing in-world persistence. Other major vendors continue to release technology for free use but with terms that make the content created with them theirs to use to create spin-off companies without paying the artists.

    This is a mess because there is now a One Billion Dollar Weasel about to go Pop when these worlds don’t return profits. It is a sharecropper contract with artificial economies inside the farm and private watermelon patches to give them the illusion that next year will bring better times from over-seeded fruity concotions ignoring that every sharecropper has their own patch and not many travelers are buying. They are taking sample and moving to the next shack.

    If this is the brave new world you are celebrating, I do hope you have another job lined up because at some point, the bean counters arrive and they won’t take watermelon seeds as proof of due diligence.

    And all you can talk about is the Big Bad Microsoft?

    Clue: you better talk about how you are going to pay off stockholders and investors with something more than feeling good about staking Spike. Sunnydale is sitting on a hellmouth.

  3. Well, it is seriously simplistic. I’m being rather tongue-in-cheek, somewhat of a devil’s advocate.

    The industry is hitting a lot of brick walls all at the same time. CPUs are not going faster, but line widths are shrinking. That’s causing manufacturers to put more and more processor cores on each chip.

    And no-one’s got any idea how to program them. Java isn’t the right language to do it in; it’s that fundamental.

    Personal Computers have got so commoditised that the major constraint (in the Western world) is the cost of landfill for disposal of the old ones. Will a charity shop take an old one off your hands ? Do they consider it an asset, or a liability ?

    As we get more and more Internet bandwidth, we spread worms and viruses faster and faster. Mankind’s ability to write software is far in advance of mankind’s ability to test it, to determine what it does (or does not) do. And yet, many people expect it to ‘all just work’. That’s how Broadband is sold.

    But I think it’s rather like selling people a beach holiday, without alerting them to the possibility of tsunamis.

    And really, I don’t think that Microsoft are bad people. I think that they are selling software too cheaply to provide adequate service capability. And that, with the ‘interconnectedness’ we have nowadays, is causing the breakage rate to be higher than the fixing rate.

    If you want IBM Service, you have to pay IBM’s prices.

    There’s a huge amount of money sloshing around the industry. Most of it ending up in Google’s pockets at the moment. Neither IBM nor Microsoft are ‘top dog’.

    I think there’s change just around the corner. I think it’s likely to be disruptive. I hope that I (and my employer, and my employer’s clients) will be on the winning side.

    That’s what I’m working for.

  4. Ah. Ok.

    Industry is sleep walking into the long predicted phenomenon brought about by accelerated and uncontrolled feedback-mediated evolution. As choices multiply and probabilities weaken (harder to make the choice), the ecosystem becomes ever more fragile. That is punctuated equilibrium. Some talk about chasms, others, collapsing probabilities. This is information theory in a metaphorical setting but the math is not that hard. Curves don’t turn up infinitely except in the paper. You don’t get intimacy from virtual worlds or lasting emotional networks. You get fast breaking relationships and you learn to feast on those until you find one that you can put time into and usually move slowly to each plateau. For all the great technical stuff we own and use, we are still very slowly evolving mammals. Push that rate of change past the ability of the statistical population to make good choices and you get a systems collapse as the feedback-created oscillations turn into noise. Then it shakes itself to pieces. Point a microphone into a speaker and thump it as you turn up the gain. Sometimes the amplifier goes first but usually the speaker cones rip to pieces. Rock 101.

    The problem is logarithmic operations over linear time. The address space becomes arabesque and eventually you turn into India: ancient, wise, colorful and incredibly impoverished with amazing class inequities given distribution of wealth, plus the additional forks of multiple dialects that exacerbate the problems of inefficient overlapping legal systems. In short: anywhere there are one set of rules for one group, and another set of rules for the next group and these groups are not separated in time and space, there are no rules except local competition. Fragmentation follows. The art of divisive politics (creating artificial crises to split voting blocs along known fault lines) depends on controlling the feedback, thus the rise in the concentration of media control within the ownership class. After that, all you have to know is basic semiotics and how to apply them given frequency and amplitude of message (aka, the news cycles and placements).

    This same kind of directed/misdirected evolution occurs in technology markets. See OOXML vs ODF, HTML vs SGML, new virtual world products vs existing standards and so on.

  5. In a sense you’re right.

    There’s this mythical thing, the “IBM Personal Computer designed for Microsoft Windows”, which has dominated the Personal Computer scene for a while. And we know how to handle it.

    However, not any more. No such thing as an IBM Personal Computer; dozens of other vendors make their own versions, Microsoft Windows defines a platform but thousands of flavours of Linux manage to run on the things too; Sony Playstation 3 defines another; and Nintendo Wii, and Microsoft XBox. Apple OSX for sure. How about the new Apple iPhone ?

    IBM mainframes are still there, still capable of running the CICS COBOL transaction programs they were running before the Personal stuff moved in on the radar. Still doing the heavy lifting, still highly reliable. Mainframes can do a lot more, nowadays, too.

    The ‘joker in the pack’ is here . Where can you get that to run ? Everywhere ?

    Does ISO26300 define the platform, the standard, the interoperability statement ?

  6. For some set of documents, yes. But those aren’t in the majority and given PDF and the accelerating rise of interactive document formats, it likely never will be. But it makes a nice market cleaver if you toss in some loss leaders with it to sweeten the offering.

    The Virtual Worlds Conference announcements were more interesting. IBM, a company with no virtual worlds products and little experience beyond experiments made by individuals, proposes to lead a group of its most fierce competitors to create standards for intereoperability based on the ideas it has gleaned from maillists and other sources. Will this result in a standard? Not likely. First the market doesn’t know where such a standard fits given most worlds are standalone entertainment venues with light sprinklings of business that are basically meet and greet chats. Second the companies consulted are viewer-based platforms with server side services, not language based. The technical and political challenges of creating a standard for such as fragmented market ensure it will take some time and a lot of effort. See US DoD CALS. Third, there is already a real-time 3D ISO client standard with applications already deployed for the military and security markets with US and European government approval and vendor support. So what exactly is IBM proposing other than that their clients should sign up to Second Life or Kaneva where they are selling servers?

    Time. It is a play for time to divide the market until IBM has a product or a market strategy beyond “this all looks good for business”. For the pioneers in X3D, IBM is about to do to them what the HTMLers did to the SGMLers until XML was created. FUD them to death.

    Here is the problem: anyone who had more than a few years of experience at this knows that there is exactly one way to get neutral interoperability and data portability: a language. To develop that as a standard among the fractured market and push it through ISO where there is an existing standard means a) IBM has to kill the credibility of the standard or b) waste ISO in the same way it accused Microsoft of doing with OOXML or c) skip the standards and try to make th claim that open source = open standards.

    The real prize is 3D IP. The companies IBM has been doing business with are VC-financed and they want that IP to pay off the very hefty bills for the financiers. IBM wants as much of that one billion invested as they can get. So it is in IBM’s best interest to keep the market divided and distracted while it sells servers to the competitors.

    I feel sorry for Bob right now. He is a good guy in a bad position. Been there. Difficult choices follow.

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