Operator No. 9: March 12, 2001

It wasn't just the stock market slide that convinced me dot-coms were on shaky ground last year.

Greasing Palms

It wasnt just the stock market slide that convinced me dot-coms were on shaky ground last year. The big tip-off was the noticeable drop in the amount of graft sent my way by companies, big and small. Just when I thought the promotional T-shirts, toys, food and other tchotchkes were being shunned in a nod to these worrisome economic times, Palm decided to do a handout. At a press briefing last week in New York at the swanky W Hotel on Union Square, Palm gave away free wireless Palm VIIx handhelds, with three months of Internet service, to the assembled journalists. Most of the dozen or so journalists gathered there — out of professional courtesy, I wont name names — happily snapped up their gratis Palm VIIxs, which retail for $399. Wasnt it just last fall that Microsoft was criticized for giving the appearance of "bribing" journalists who attended a Redmond briefing about its newest Pocket PC handheld units by giving out $1,400 worth of free gadgets? I guess it depends on whos greasing the palms. If youre wondering, Im still Palm-less.

Thats the Way the Cookie Crumbles

Today, when I got my tuna sandwich back to the office, I found something I didnt order in the bag: cookies, courtesy of EarthLink. The little natural-foods deli I was visiting in Washington, D.C., was giving them to every customer. The foil pouch says, "Do you know where your cookies come from?" on one side; the other side offers a brief explanation of Internet cookies, their possible use to invade privacy and the privacy services EarthLink offers — along with the EarthLink URL. Oh, yes, the cookies, according to the packaging, come from www.auntsaras.com. The problem is that the 3-inch chocolate chip cookies were . . . whats the word Im looking for? Yucky. Not to worry, EarthLink: Your bags were a hit, at least with the deli operators. See, EarthLink offered the deli free bags as well. The bags assert, "You are not a demographic" and again tout privacy and an "anonymous" Internet. The deli guy loved the idea of the free bags and cookies, but stopped giving out the cookies after the first day, when he actually tasted what he was handing out.

"You never save your way out of a recession."
— Craig Barrett, chief executive of Intel, at the companys Developer Forum in San Jose late last month; he was telling attendees that though high-tech demand is waning, Intel will continue to invest in development and new products. It expects to put about $12 billion into research and development and capital expansion in 2001. "The slowdowns are going to end, and you need to prepare for the upswing . . . the build out of the Internet," he said. "The build out of this digital world is still in its infancy."

Terrorists Delight

John Chambers thinks whats so gosh-darn-golly neat about the Internet is that one can access any data from anywhere. To demonstrate, he set up a demo last week at the Global Internet Summit in Fairfax, Va., with Flight Explorer, a flight tracking software company. Chambers figures it aint such a bad idea to open up access to flight-routing data and provide images to anyone with a PC and an Internet connection, which is exactly what Chambers Cisco Systems has done with Flight Explorer. I can hear all those hackers now: "Wow! All this time I thought Id have to break into flight control on my own. Now I just need my PC. Thanks Mr. Chambers! You the man!"

So Long! Farewell! Auf Wiedersehen! Goodbye?

While its unusual for high-tech pubs to publish obituaries, I think it may be time for all of us to pay tribute to a service that, for a time, ensured we wouldnt have to. Pay, that is: Napster (as weve known it), 21 months old, of Redwood City, Calif., died Tuesday, March 6, 2001, from a court-ordered block on the transfer of copyrighted music. Napster was born in June 1999 at Northeastern University when then- college freshman Shawn Fanning was looking for a way to trade music online that would bypass useless search engines. Napster was a friend to music fans and ushered in the era of peer-to-peer networking. Despite venture capital and a lifeline investment from Bertelsmann, Napster was stricken with lawsuits and injunctions by the Recording Industry Association of America. Its survived by creator Fanning, Chief Executive Hank Barry, lead attorney David Boies, more than 65 millions users worldwide and an offspring that will no doubt charge for its services.

Competitive Bashing

Ariba loves to bash i2 Technologies. So much so, it seems like policy. During an Ariba show-and-tell for analysts and the media in New York late last month, President Larry Mueller alluded to Nikes complaints that i2s supply-chain software made a mess. First the stock markets in a tailspin, then the economy loses altitude, "and last night I found out that I wont get my Nikes on time," Mueller quipped. The company that has to eat its words, though, is Nike. I2 threatened a slander lawsuit and Nike seems to be backpedaling. I2, meanwhile, is apparently more alarmed by what a customer says than by its rivals barbs. Last week, i2 planned to hold its own court in New York, until a snowstorm forced the company to reschedule the event; Ariba didnt wait to aim — it just took the shot. "Mother Natures working for us. See? Shes on our side," cracked spokesman Peter Nilsson. "You can run that in your column." Boys, boys.

Dont Fret

Possible downturn in the economy got you worried? A well-known Miami networking executive who declined to be named has come up with a Top 10 list of alternative business models to carry the networking business through the recession.

10. Repaper old toilet paper rolls.
9. Wash cars at stoplights.
8. Launch Voice-over-Air project. Multicasting issue already worked out.
7. Become a venture capitalist (VC), hear everyone elses ideas, then dont invest and steal the idea.
6. Give up using your brains and start a colocation company.
5. Sell cat5s (100-megabit-per-second patch cables, for the uninformed) on street corners.
4. Take childs remote control car and put in sewer with a string to pull fiber. Charge $1 million per mile for this service.
3. Convince everyone fiber is a fad and start selling Dixie cups with string. Get VC to fund.
2. Wire Starbucks with Internet and wireless Ethernet and just hang out all day; charge one latte for tech support.
1. Make Starbucks a first-tier Internet company.

A Watershed

Among the graft that has found its way into my possession is a Netscape wristwatch — chromish, with the old Netscape Communications blue "N" logo on the face. Got it from then-Chief Executive Jim Barksdale and his erstwhile lieutenant, Mike Homer, at an event a few years back announcing that market realities — and Microsofts free distribution of Internet Explorer — had convinced them to distribute their once moneymaking Navigator browser for free. I pulled the watch out of the drawer because I noted, on a recent drive, that the fountain that once graced Netscapes headquarters here in Silicon Valley runs no more. The old Netscape headquarters were sold off after parent America Online decided to consolidate the remaining Netscape staffers in a few buildings. Netscapers, though, are quick to point out that the other Netscape landmark — the two-story "Toxic Tower," which is used to vent toxic chemicals once dumped on the site by chipmakers Fairchild, Intel and Raytheon — is still doing its thing as part of an environmental clean-up effort.