Thursday, September 02, 2004

A source of constant disappointment

As you may have seen over the past few days parts of the American media seem to think that the launch of Microsoft's new operating system is turning into a bigger disaster than the war against terror. They're wrong for two reasons:

- The war against terror is majorly messed up because of
poor leadership which has betrayed the countless men and women who have been serving their countries selflessly

- Even in the unlikely event of Microsoft going bankrupt in the morning and the business and associated 'intellectual' properties disappearing into a puff of smoke (I sooo wish it were true), there are numerous viable alternatives from pirate Windows software (nice price, shame about the code), GNU/Linux, various flavours of Unix (Solaris, Openware, Mac OS X, netBSD, FreeBSD etc)

Let's put Longhorn into perspective:

- Whine number one - its late, duh show me an IT project that isn't late, or over budget. Ever heard the one about the sales man who walks into a client, promises them the earth and then gives the programming team three weeks to build it and is then surprised when it doesn't deliver. Microsoft is bigger than everyone else so does things like this on a bigger scale.

- Whine number two - it won't do what you promise, you've cut out all the good bits. Ok, I'm going to let you into an IT industry dirty secret, marketing people lie. They believe what they tell you when they have told you it, but they lie. I know they lie, because I've taken their lies and written them in an easy to understand format for journalists to write about and jouranlists propagate those lies because they provide content that readers pretend to glance over whilst really checking out the job adverts and feeling aggrieved at the money they are paid. The content is a trojan horse to get those job adverts into their workplace because there are too many more interesting things to do in their own time

- Whine number three - its an omen of doom, Trey (William Gates III to those of us who know him well) has taken his eye off the ball and
Monkey Boy Balmer has royally fcuked up, this would not have happened with Bill in charge. This one needs to be broken down into sections.

First of all, Steve Balmer has done a good job fighting against the rabid autistic children that make up most of his employees, bringing it successfully through a shedload of antitrust lawsuits and helping put a more sympathetic government in the White House. Remember, Bill Gates' video testimony helped with the finding of fact against the company in the first place and condemned Microsoft in the court of public opinion.

Secondly, when Gates was in the hot seat the company made some shocking errors:

  • The Road Ahead (first edition) - ghost writers had to tear this apart and rewrite it replacing up to 30 per cent of the content, Gates had dismissed the Internet and missed the boat. They spent hundreds of millions before they caught back up
  • Cairo - during the development of Windows'95, Microsoft spent a lot of money developing some wicked cool technologies that improved searching for data on a computer amongst other things. Cairo was designed to unify the DOS and NT based products on one state-of-the-art platform (this unification happened much later with Windows XP). Along the way a lot of cool stuff got culled, the market got an inferior product which sold despite being launched with a Rolling Stones live performance of 'Start me up'. Windows'95 went on to be a technological wasteland and an unprecendented commerical success.
Thirdly it takes more than a few penguins and unruly autistic children to take down the house of Microsoft. Why? Because thousands of IT people want to follow each other like lemmings rather than looking at alternatives that may provide their business with competitive advantage? The real compelling reason why Microsoft should not be scared - politico-economics. Below is a quote taken from the I, Cringely column of August 14, 2003:

Why aren't Apple Macintosh computers more popular in large mainstream organizations? Whatever the gigahertz numbers say, Macintoshes are comparable in performance to Windows or Linux machines. Whatever the conventional wisdom or the Microsoft marketing message, Macs aren't dramatically more expensive to buy and on a Total Cost of Ownership basis they are probably cheaper. Nobody would argue that Macs are harder to use. Clearly, they are easier to use, especially on a network. So what's the problem? Why do Macs seem to exist only in media outfits?

Apple is clearly wondering the same thing because the company recently surveyed owners of their xServe 1U boxes asking what Apple could do to make them more attractive? For those who own xServes, they are darned attractive -- small, powerful, energy-efficient, easy to configure and manage, and offering dramatic savings for applications like streaming. Yet, Apple appears to be having a terrible time selling the things.

I used to think it came down to nerd ego. Macs were easy to use, so they didn't get the respect of nerds who measured their testosterone levels by how fluently they could navigate a command line interface. Now, I think differently. Now, I think Macs threaten the livelihood of IT staffs. If you recommend purchasing a computer that requires only half the support of the machine it is replacing, aren't you putting your job in danger? Exactly.

Ideally, the IT department ought to recommend the best computer for the job, but more often than not, they recommend the best computer for the IT department's job.

Now another question: Why are Linux computers gaining in popularity with large organizations while Macs, which are based after all on BSD Unix, aren't? While there is certainly a lot to be said for Linux in competition with various flavors of Windows (Linux is faster, more memory-efficient, more secure, has more sources of supply, supports many more simultaneous users per box in a server environment, and is clearly cheaper to buy), the advantage over Macintosh computers is less clear.

Again, it comes down to the IT Department Full Employment Act. Adopting Linux allows organizations to increase their IT efficiency without requiring the IT department to increase ITS efficiency. It takes just as many nerds to support 100 Linux boxes as 100 Windows boxes, yet Linux boxes are cheaper and can support more users. The organization is better off while the IT department is unscathed and unchallenged.

I am not claiming that every organization should throw out its PCs and replace them with Macs, but the numbers are pretty clear, and the fact that more Macs don't make it into server racks has to be based on something, and I think that something is CIO self-interest.

Macs reduce IT head count while Linux probably increases IT head count, simple as that.

I didn't come up with this very smart idea, it came from a reader. That same reader made the point that every part of an organization ought to be concerned with improving the bottom line, which is to say with being more productive. Yet IT typically doesn't work that way.

All you aspiring
'Neutron' Jack Welch's out there, you have an ideal target to squeeze for efficieny get liquidating staff and taking technological change out of the hands of the IT director (better still fire his ass and buy the mortgage on his property for peanuts). Before you ask, outsourcing just ships the problem out of the country but not out of your life.