IT memory lane
It isn't often that the pioneers of IT get together and swap stories in public about the old times—those long-ago days before iPods, Facebook, instant messaging, and all the quick and easy technology we enjoy and take for granted.
When these gatherings do happen, the de facto home for them is the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, Calif. The museum is located in what used to be a building belonging to SGI, just off the landmark Bayshore Freeway that zips straight down the middle of Silicon Valley.
On Dec. 10, the museum played host to a panel discussion to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the launch of the Commodore 64 personal computer. Sporting all of 64K of memory, the trusty desktop machine performed very well and garnered millions of fans during its decade-long run as the most popular (with the masses) PC. If the IBM PC and the Apple II were expensive SUVs in 1982, the Commodore was a Volkswagen Beetle, and it was just as beloved.
At a mere $199, most people could afford it. "We didn't make a lot of money on margin," company founder Jack Tramiel told a standing-room-only audience at the museum, "but we made a lot of friends. They loved our product. I just wish we could have continued to do what we did."
Panel members that night included Steve Wozniak, Apple co-founder and co-developer of the Apple I and II; Bill Lowe, whose division at IBM produced the first PC in 1981; Tramiel, who founded Commodore and later took over Atari; and Adam Chowaniec, former CEO of Amiga and a Commodore original.
There were many funny moments in an evening full of memories. But Chowaniec might have had the best story: "When we were getting down to the wire on the Commodore launch, the operating system was our biggest concern because it wasn't finished yet," he recalled. "We were getting nervous. So we flew to the chief developer's home in some backwoods town and found him in his lab. He had all these computers in there, plus a big cage with a rabbit in it.
"When we found he was spending more time talking to his rabbit than writing code, we really got nervous. But, fortunately, it eventually all worked out."
Technology's sex appeal, Part 1
There was a lot of talk of "image" at the Armani Casa boutique on 97 Greene Street in New York earlier this month.
But the image had little to do with the sleek home furnishings, flatware and dishes throughout the store and more to do with Dell's new XPS One—an all-in-one PC that the Round Rock, Texas, company brought to the consumer market in November.
The Dec. 6 show in New York was envisioned as a way for Dell to show its new commitment to design—and what more appropriate forum for sleek curves and compact packaging than a store associated with Armani?
To highlight the fact that Dell has invested increasing importance in design and style, the company hired Karolina Kurkova—a model who has previously worked for Vogue and Victoria's Secret—to show that the days of the clunky, gray desktop PC are over, way over.
The fact that Dell is pouring marketing dollars into promoting the XPS One in fashionable locales next to well-known models is a sign that style—and image—matters as much now as processor speed or RAM.
Dell has not been known for styling, unlike other hardware vendors, such as Acer, Hewlett-Packard and, of course, Apple. But with Michael Dell approaching the one-year anniversary of his return to the company helm, that seems to be changing.
At the show, a Dell representative denied that the company is suffering from Apple envy. The company, the rep said, is merely responding to the wishes of its customers for a desktop PC that could easily find a place in either the computer room or the living room. In fact, at the event, XPS One systems were spread throughout the store to show that the machines could blend in with the hippest of furniture.
What Kurkova thought of the PCs was hard to determine. When the nearly 6-foot blonde model arrived, her voice was drowned out by the clicks of cameras and the small crowds that followed her from one end of the store to another as she posed next to the XPS Ones or stopped to speak to another guest.
For Kurkova, image does not seem to be a problem. Whether that image will translate to Dell is another story.
Page 2: Upfront
Technology's sex appeal, Part 2
Sometime last year, maybe when IBM started flogging its reinvention of Lotus Sametime, vendors and CIOs alike started thinking that, maybe the social networking model for connecting people inside the enterprise would drive more collaboration and solve the conundrum that has bedeviled knowledge management advocates for as long as we've had a knowledge-based economy: Corporate intranets are just no fun.
Lightweight and intuitive apps that let people inside (and outside) your enterprise connect with each other and discover each other's aptitudes and interests seem more promising than using laborious taxonomies to code documents and write lengthy biographies to help identify corporate experts on given subjects.
The emergence of networking sites devoted exclusively to professionals—such as LinkedIn, Plaxo (with its Pulse network) and, to an extent, Facebook—have added fuel to this relationship-driven fire.
And as eWEEK's Clint Boulton has reported, it's the quality of the networks, not the number of names they contain, that will give them the most enterprise value.
But value is one thing, and enthusiasm is another. Now, I happen to love LinkedIn; I use it to find sources and possible collaborators. And I'll keep using this kind of networking tool because it makes me better at what I truly love doing.
But just because something's taken off in one context doesn't mean it can work in another. You might notice that there's not a lot of, uh, personal-relationship building going on in LinkedIn, which is as its designers and human resource executives would want. But that's precisely what's driven the consumer social networks such as MySpace. Without any real sex appeal, I suspect that the enthusiasm for enterprise social networking will dry up in the long run.
Office of privacy
A distinct trend in IT administration is that companies are realizing—thanks to ever-evolving federal and local laws and regulations and the multiplication of data—that a separate office is becoming necessary to handle corporate, employee, partner and customer information privacy.
"Chief privacy officers" are entrusted with making sure their companies know how to build the trust of their customers and employees and meet these stringent new regulatory requirements to build corporate reputation and branding.
Sun Microsystems, one of the first companies to have its own CPO (Michelle Dennedy), hosted a panel discussion on the topic Dec. 12 in Menlo Park, Calif. On the panel were CPOs from Agilent (Jim Allen) and Intuit (Barbara Lawler); law professor Deirdre Mulligan, from the University of California; and Joanne McNabb, chief of the California Office of Privacy Protection. The panel was moderated by Dr. Moira Gunn (host of NPR's "Tech Nation").
Some observations and conclusions of the discussion?
"Don't be afraid to look to the 'old' for technical help in keeping data private," Dennedy said. "Encryption [and de-encryption] is getting much quicker and more efficient now. Firewalls are better now. Thin clients that used to be kind of kludgy are much smoother to operate now, for companies that want to keep everything on their servers."
Lawler said: "If customers don't trust us—since we have access to so much personal financial data—we fail. Nothing is more important to us as data privacy, and other companies should feel the same way."
Allen said education about personal data privacy needs to be circulated by the media more often, "and we also suggest everybody get a shredder," he said with a smile.
Page 3: Upfront
At a recent speaking engagement about PCI and Sarbanes-Oxley Act compliance, I asked the audience to get out their wallets and pull out their credit cards. Then I asked them to hand the card to the person on their right.
Everyone got out their wallet. Nobody would hand over the card. The point of the exercise was to get everyone thinking about the Payment Card Industry-Data Security Standard in a personal way. I'm not sure that people—or the organizations charged with protecting their data—are that guarded in day-to-day life.
Big names eyeing Google Apps
Think Google Apps Premier Edition is just for small and midsize companies? Think big companies won't switch from Microsoft Office tools such as Word and Excel and, for corporate e-mail, from Exchange Server?
Well, does Intel qualify as a big company? Qualcomm? How about Procter & Gamble? Those are some of the companies conducting pilots of GAPE, with plans to move so-called nonpower users from Microsoft apps to Google's suite of online productivity and collaboration tools, I've heard from a reliable source.
Why would they do that? Well, if you're a big-enough company, $300-plus per user for an Office license can start to add up in a hurry. Add in the cost of managing all those Microsoft patches, service packs and upgrades, and you're talking tens of thousands of dollars—at least.
My source also told me that Google is working on smoothing out some of the clunkiness you still get with Google Docs & Spreadsheets, and will be wrapping in a lot of the functionality it bought with its acquisition of JotSpot.
Last year, industry maven Rebecca Wettemann of Nucleus Research told me that Microsoft would soon be confined to the dustbin of history (said dustbin presumably to be found under the desktop). So she wasn't surprised when I relayed what I'd heard about Google Apps. "More and more companies see that there are attractive alternatives" to Microsoft, Wettemann said.
Microsoft sees it, too, but Office Live Workspace is a halting answer. If that's the best Microsoft can or is willing to do, the field is pretty open for GAPE.
This is the last eWeek issue of 2007. The first issue of 2008 will be dated Jan. 7. (Until then, check out eweek.com for continuously updated news and analysis.)
In this week's issue, eWeek editors and Labs analysts put their heads together to name the most important news stories and products of the year, with an eye toward how these events and technologies will affect enterprise IT in the year and years ahead.
We'd also like to take this opportunity to wish all of our readers a happy holiday season and a healthy and prosperous new year.