Innovation Comes Full Circle
Opinion: Innovation these days is more about making new combinations with existing technologies than creating new ones.I was staying in Palo Alto and caught the early-morning commuter rail train to San Francisco, envisioning a time when I could start my business day at Union Square using Googles free wireless Internet service. Alas, the free Google Wi-Fi was not yet available, but a great deal of business buzz has been generated by the companys plan for free service in San Francisco. A free, reliable Internet service is a strong challenger to traditional telecommunications companies, as well as to all those hotels around Union Square charging at least $10 a day for Internet access. Add Googles wireless offering to the companys plan to build a huge, million-square-foot business park on NASA property near the old Moffett Field blimp hangars in Silicon Valley, and you get the idea that the precocious 7-year-old search company will soon own all the land and airwaves from San Francisco southward and heavenward. It would have been easy to conceive of Googles inexorable ad-sponsored march as unstoppable if not for my recent annoyance with the Google news page and my Firefox browser, which suddenly sprouted some crash-inducing incompatibility that forced me to return to (egad!) Internet Explorer as my browser of choice. While it is often the brashest moves, such as Google offering free (well, not really free, since it will be ad-sponsored) wireless service, that draw the headlines, the real innovations in technology are taking place behind the scenes as companies try to combine old technologies in new packages.
The week before Google was talking up real estate and free wireless, I was in Boston, splitting my time between an Oracle session featuring the companys president, Charles Phillips, explaining how the disparate pieces of the company will come together, and an MIT conference on innovation. Oracle is, of course, assembling not just old technologies but also old (in the technology sense) companies in new packages. It has become the oddest of vendor contests with companies such as IBM, Oracle and SAP all claiming to be the most supportive of standardssimilar to the idea of ice cream companies vying with one another to offer the plainest flavor of vanilla.