Operator No. 9: May 21, 2001

Just two weeks after Microsoft exec Craig Mundie blasted open source operating systems as bad for business, the Transaction Processing Performance Council - which does benchmark testing - said IBM's upcoming DB2 7.2 database release, which runs

Open Mouth, Insert Foot

Just two weeks after Microsoft exec Craig Mundie blasted open source operating systems as bad for business, the Transaction Processing Performance Council — which does benchmark testing — said IBMs upcoming DB2 7.2 database release, which runs on the Linux 2.4.3 open source OS, outperforms Microsofts SQL Server 2000 database, which runs on Windows 2000, in the 100-gigabyte category. Until now, Microsoft gleefully noted that it always took top honors in the category. Microsoft said it welcomes the competition, but claimed it wasnt an apples-to-apples comparison because of the hardware used. For its part, IBM said it submitted the Linux configuration for benchmarking because the company is "interested in helping bring Linux into the mainstream." Im sure the fact that it left Microsoft with a little egg on its face was just an added bonus.

Pass the Humble Pie

They say those that cant do, teach. And those that cant successfully run a company . . . become venture capitalists? Thats the first thing that came to mind when I read that Gil Amelio, former CEO of Apple Computer, whose uninspired leadership led to Steve Jobs second coming, has become a general partner at Sienna Ventures. Amelio, whose 1996 to 97 stint at Apple was charitably described as "tumultuous" by the San Francisco Chronicle, told the paper why the world really needs another VC: "There are an awful lot of VCs, but there are very few of them that have my background. I think what the world definitely needs more of is more VCs like me and fewer that have little experience other than a Harvard MBA and very little technology background." Im speechless.

For the Birds

File this under "You just cant make this stuff up": The Danish Ornithological Association says singing birds are adding new songs to their repertoire, courtesy of mobile phones. Two billion new ringing tones are expected to be sold to mobile phone users in 2001, according to a report by Strand Consult. Although the birds are whistling new tunes, Strand notes its the music industry thats actually singing with joy. Since many of the new ringing tones are based on songs from popular artists such as Janet Jackson, the artists get a royalty on every ringing tone sold. "Whether the music industry will extend their copyrights to also cover the natural world and singing birds remains to be seen," Strand says, quite snidely I might add.

The Politics of Polite Rhetoric

Bruce Mehlman, 31, is a relatively young man poised to take on a big job as assistant secretary of commerce for technology policy, but first hes got to get confirmed by Congress. At a Senate hearing last week, Sen. George Allen, R-Va., realized that he had spoken at Mehlmans commencement ceremony at the University of Virginia law school. Ever the troublemaker, Sen. JOHN MCCAIN, R-Ariz., asked of Mehlman: "Do you want to give us the highlights of Sen. Allens commencement speech?" Mehlman quickly retorted with something important sounding but utterly vague — in effect, a nonanswer. McCain smiled and said: "Thats why youve gone so far."

Roughing It

To others like me who think the dot-com/IPO thing was one big pyramid scheme that enriched a few, I submit the following: Former Webvan Group CEO George Shaheen will reportedly get $375,000 per year for the rest of his life as part of a retirement package he negotiated when he stepped down last month. That figure represents 50 percent of his $500,000 base salary and the $375,000 bonus he was promised when he took on the job at the grocery home-delivery service less than two years ago. FYI: Webvan shares were at 14 cents in midweek trading last week.


The number of days — as of May 21 — that President George W. Bush has been in office and without a technology adviser.

It Came to Pass

The Salt Lake Tribune reported last week that Intel would have built a $2 billion chip plant in Utah years earlier than it did, if not for the Mormons. Seems the public image of Utah as one big Mormon temple plunked down in the middle of the desert gave Intel some pause. Intel recruiters were concerned they would find it "difficult to attract chip designers, especially single ones, to a community where the culture reflects the morally conservative religious norms of the church," says Ted Telford, who until six months ago was Intels director of site selection. "There were fears that [the recruits] probably would have a difficult time adjusting to the lifestyle, fitting in and not feeling outside the norm." The hardware engineers among my friends tell me that theyre a breed apart from other engineers, so I dont see why Utah would be any different than anywhere else for them.

Rhymes With . . .

While trading war stories with an ex-executive at MicroStrategy — which offers "a scalable business intelligence platform built for the Internet" — my correspondent learned that other "refugees from the once high-flyer" now refer to the company, affectionately, as "MicroTragedy.

Ode to Fred

It looks like Fred is destined to become a cultural icon for information technology folks. In case you havent seen the commercials, Fred is the faceless IT guy in the CDW Computer Centers commercials who co-workers use like a doormat. "Fred, I opened that virus just like you told me not to," one says. "Fred, I just ordered some incompatible software that Id like you to install for me," says another. And, "Fred, Ive just taken user error to a whole new level," gleefully chimes in a third. The folks at CDW say the commercials have been such a hit with IT support staff that the company has been inundated with requests for copies of the commercials and has received hundreds of e-mails with other examples of "Fred" situations. CDW is set to announce this week that it has created an award program for IT managers, dubbed the "Freds," to pay tribute to the nations overworked IT pros. Good going — they deserve it. And by the way, Fred, I just spilled my Jamba Juice on my laptop. Do you have some kind of keyboard filter thingy to take care of that?

Ready, Aim . . .

When it comes to taking potshots at Microsoft, Big Blue seems to have found a new voice. After announcing last week that it will build Web services functionality into its database and various products — Microsoft has been waving the Web services banner for a year now with its .Net initiative — Steve Mills, senior vice president of IBMs software group, told one of our sister publications what makes Big Blue different from Big Red. IBMs approach, Mills says, "is inherently designed for cross-platform, heterogeneous process flow. Microsoft is neither cross-platform nor heterogeneous. Theyre a single-platform provider. So as soon as the interaction goes off-platform, Microsoft simply views it as a point of connection, not a point of management." Fire!