Windows XP, IBM's Watson, Vied for Attention With CES

NEWS ANALYSIS: There was plenty of enterprise IT news that got lost amid the cacophony of CES announcements, including talk about Windows XP, IBM's Watson and

While the CES show was happening in Las Vegas last week, the bigger news was in the business-to-business technology segment. CES had a lot of interesting products, but most of them were predictable as TVs got bigger, more functions were crammed onto wrist fitness devices and smartphones proliferated and headed down in price.

Meanwhile, back at the enterprise ranch, IBM was busy creating a group intent on taking its Watson artificial intelligence system from flashy technology triumph to cash generator. Also in the same week, kept championing its all-things-Salesforce mantra and the soon-to-be-orphaned Windows XP operating system may not go as gently into the night as Microsoft might hope.

The biggest business news out of CES was the continued unbundling of smartphone devices and services. The much-hated, mysterious multi-year contracts from the major carriers (AT&T and Verizon) are ending as T-Mobile's rebel with a cause CEO John Legere has roiled the carrier waters.

It is not too far a reach to compare the smartphone hardware and service unbundling to what is happening in the enterprise space with the rise of software-defined networks, OpenStack IT infrastructure and the Open Compute model of hardware and software disaggregation as also prying loose the tight hardware and software system lock-in which stymied many customer plans to revamp their data centers.

The reincarnation of IBM's Watson from a successful lab experiment based on tightly integrated hardware and software to a cloud service capable of attracting developers and offering advanced artificial intelligence services at an Amazon Web Services price point will be the IBM story to watch this year.

Watson has a track record including the well-known Jeopardy championship and medical analysis applications. What it does not have—and what IBM is putting $1 billion and 2,000 employees into creating—are a strong system of developers and business success stories, and an explanation of the pricing and development cycle users can expect with Watson.

Although IBM would like us to believe it is offering a new type of business intelligence service, the company will have to demonstrate how Watson differs from its own business intelligence under the Cognos brand as well as the wide range of startups including the likes of Sqqrl, Metric Insights and Palantir.

In the same week and the same Big Apple where IBM was talking about Watson, Chairman Marc Benioff was championing the company's recently introduced Salesforce1 platform and how he now runs the company solely from his smartphone.

The Salesforce1 platform was necessary for a company that has grown through acquisitions that led to a mishmash of internal databases, development platforms and user interfaces. Benioff is a master at declaring the war over and won before the battle takes place, but he is on the right side of seeing the smartphone as the new centerpiece of corporate computing. Too many companies are still stuck in the mode of seeing the smartphone as an auxiliary to the PC desktop and laptop model of computing rather than the focus of a new model of corporate computing.

And speaking of that aging desktop model, it is apparent that for many companies the final good-bye to Windows XP may take a lot longer than once thought. Microsoft is ending support for XP on April 8. With Windows XP market share still around 30 percent, the operating system still represents a lot of corporate usage.

I'm guessing that many companies don't know how many XP systems are out there, not just on desktops, but on lots of "forgotten devices." As David Strom points out in a recent blog, "There are plenty of devices that aren't actually sitting on anyone's desk but are connected to your corporate network, and will need upgrading.

"When you start to look around, you can find them in some surprising places, such as point-of-sale terminals, ticket kiosks for trains and subway stations, medical equipment, displays at airports, bus stations and train stations, digital payphones, digital LED signage, video conference rooms, red-light speed cameras, movie ticket kiosks, and supermarket self-checkout lanes (these have enough problems as it is)," Strom wrote.

While CES received all the attention last week, it was in the business world where bigger, more far reaching changes were taking place.

Eric Lundquist is a technology analyst at Ziff Brothers Investments, a private investment firm. Lundquist, who was editor in chief at eWEEK (previously PC WEEK) from 1996-2008, authored this article for eWEEK to share his thoughts on technology, products and services. No investment advice is offered in this article. All duties are disclaimed. Lundquist works separately for a private investment firm, which may at any time invest in companies whose products are discussed in this article and no disclosure of securities transactions will be made.